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Novel open-source electronic medical records system for palliative care in low-resource settings

Kamal G Shah1, Tara Lyn Slough1, Ping Teresa Yeh1, Suave Gombwa2, Athanase Kiromera3, Z Maria Oden1 and Rebecca R Richards-Kortum1*

Author Affiliations

1 Rice 360: Institute for Global Health Technologies, Rice University, 6100 Main St., Houston, TX 77005, USA

2 St. Gabriel’s Hospital, Namitete, Malawi

3 Maryland Global Initiative Corporation, Kigali, Rwanda

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BMC Palliative Care 2013, 12:31  doi:10.1186/1472-684X-12-31

Published: 14 August 2013



The need for palliative care in sub-Saharan Africa is staggering: this region shoulders over 67% of the global burden of HIV/AIDS and cancer. However, provisions for these essential services remain limited and poorly integrated with national health systems in most nations. Moreover, the evidence base for palliative care in the region remains scarce. This study chronicles the development and evaluation of DataPall, an open-source electronic medical records system that can be used to track patients, manage data, and generate reports for palliative care providers in these settings.

DataPall was developed using design criteria encompassing both functional and technical objectives articulated by hospital leaders and palliative care staff at a leading palliative care center in Malawi. The database can be used with computers that run Windows XP SP 2 or newer, and does not require an internet connection for use. Subsequent to its development and implementation in two hospitals, DataPall was tested among both trained and untrained hospital staff populations on the basis of its usability with comparison to existing paper records systems as well as on the speed at which users could perform basic database functions. Additionally, all participants evaluated this program on a standard system usability scale.


In a study of health professionals in a Malawian hospital, DataPall enabled palliative care providers to find patients’ appointments, on average, in less than half the time required to locate the same record in current paper records. Moreover, participants generated customizable reports documenting patient records and comprehensive reports on providers’ activities with little training necessary. Participants affirmed this ease of use on the system usability scale.


DataPall is a simple, effective electronic medical records system that can assist in developing an evidence base of clinical data for palliative care in low resource settings. The system is available at no cost, is specifically designed to chronicle care in the region, and is catered to meet the technical needs and user specifications of such facilities.

Palliative care; Electronic medical records system; Evidence-based medicine; Africa; Database