Building Better Digital Health in the Warm Heart of Africa: What Happened at #OHIE23

By: Kasey Upchurch
Posted On: May 30, 2023

On the first through the fifth of May, around 280 members of the OpenHIE community came together in Lilongwe, Malawi, the “Warm Heart of Africa” for our third Annual Community Meeting and the ten year anniversary of the community. 

Government officials, implementers, tech developers, and other stakeholders came from 33 different countries to connect and learn from each other’s shared experiences and strengthen the ability to design and build toward ecosystems that raise the level of health for all.

What a week for health information exchange! How can we possibly share everything from this meeting? In this post, we’ll give it a try and also share ways that those who weren’t able to participate in-person can access materials and connect with the community virtually.

The Architecture Summit & Country HIE Progress

On the first day of the event, the Architecture Summit took place. This session provided an open and interactive space for participants to talk about OpenHIE technical roadmap for the coming year and provide feedback to drive the community’s documentations to be most useful to countries and implementers. 

This year, the Summit’s goals were to discuss current FHIR use and the dream of FHIR use in OpenHIE. FHIR is being used in many locations and products and there is great interest in expanding its use among the countries present. 

Many country projects are also exploring or beginning to build National Health Data Dictionaries (NHDDs) or national-level OpenMRS concept dictionaries (often by reconciling multiple existing org-level dictionaries) on top of OCL.


Countries that are currently pursuing projects or have fully implemented components of OpenHIE include: Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Botswana, Ivory Coast, and Zimbabwe. 

The community began to capture country progress in Field Notes as well as by asking countries where they are with their eHealth strategy and the HIE components. This data was captured visually and will soon be available virtually to the community.

eHealth Leaders at #OHIE23

During OHIE23 a track was led by the Malawi Ministry of Health for eHealth leaders, developing and operationalizing strategies in their respective countries to come together to share experiences and challenges with peers from around the globe. This was known as the eHealth Leaders Forum (EHLF), a collective those in attendance plan to continue virtually and face-to-face in the future.

The outcome from this first face-to-face African EHLF is for those in attendance to begin to align on an engagement strategy for eHealth leaders in the region, including a call to action document to form the African EHLF in an effort to bring more decision makers to the conversation. 

Patient Identity Management at the Cognitive Collaborative Hackathon

The Cognitive Collaborative Hackathon provided a space for groups to connect and learn about what others are working on related to client registries and national ID systems. Teams shared an overview of their patient matching scenario, the purpose, the datasets being matched, what software/tools are being used, how they are maintaining linked data, and if there is integration with existing ID systems. You can see notes shared on this Miro board and in this Wiki notes page.

There is an opportunity to continue to collaborate on the Patient Identity Management monthly meetings and document collective wisdom in the identity management Toolkit

Regional Networks Supporting HIE

One plenary at #OHIE23 hosted individuals from different regional networks like HELINA/KeHIA, AeHIN, RECAINSA, as well as a representative from Malawi. This Fireside chat served as a forum for regional network representatives to share their growth in digital health in their respective regions, how they are supporting local HIE implementations, and goals for the future. 

This session served as an excellent forum for regional networks to set-up their foundation in the OpenHIE community. One goal that was outlined was that this community intends to find ways to support regional network meetings as well as the networks’ outreach to the community. 

We also look forward to how we can better engage AeHIN for the 2024 OpenHIE Community Meeting in Sri Lanka!

The HIE Technical Marketplace 

Traditionally the OpenHIE Community Meetings have included a program called the Technical Showcase. At showcases we’ve invited technical organizations, projects, and teams to share a very short presentation about their solutions and how others can get engaged. 

This year, we took a different approach to allow for as many teams to share their work and for participants to spend as much time with organizations as they need within the hour timeframe. We are now calling this approach The HIE Technical Marketplace and look forward to bringing it to future events.

Over 20 teams took over individual tables in the main conference hall. Participants then had an hour to mingle around to different teams to learn about their technical solutions. This informal session gave participants the chance to work directly with technical teams to solve their unique problems and begin developing connections for long-term collaboration.

The Star of the Show: Unconference Sessions

At every OpenHIE Community Meeting there have been the well-loved unconference sessions. These are several open sessions on the agenda for which topics are proposed by attendees relevant to their experiences and OpenHIE implementation work. 

This year participants proposed 22 topic sessions! To review the sessions and their top outcomes, see this slide deck with summaries from each session. (And the summaries were prepared by Artificial Intelligence – WOAH!) Additionally, you can find the full detailed notes for each session by clicking on the description in Sched, the online agenda.

A Week of Building Better Digital Health!

So much happened in just one week at this community meeting! In addition to the activities listed above, there were countless unscheduled conversations, team meetings, and updates for projects like National Health Data Dictionaries, new practice areas, and the future of Instant OHIE.

This meeting was the perfect way to kickstart several new work streams as a community. To stay connected to what the sub-communities are moving forward with and new opportunities that arise, we recommend signing up for the community mailing list!

Additionally, everyone is welcome to review materials that were saved from this meeting including notes, slide decks, and some recordings – all of which are available on the #OHIE23 Sched web page.