If you’re in the medical field, you know how important it is to have good software for records. The ability to access medical records from a centralized location is key, although it can cause problems.

Many proprietary solutions try to make it possible to access medical records from a centralized location with built-in web-server like functionality or use a built-in database and have clients connect to the db server. One issue this can cause is unreliability. The free OpenEMR makes unreliability a non-issue by placing the software on top of the Apache web server. With the stability and security of Apache running the tools, the concern for reliability goes out the window.

OpenEMR also offers:

  • ONC Certified
  • Patient Demographics
  • Patient Scheduling
  • Electronic Medical Records
  • Prescriptions
  • Medical Billing
  • Clinical Decision Rules
  • Patient Portal
  • Reports
  • Multi-language support
  • Security


Another great feature about OpenEMR is that it can be installed on any platform that meets these requirements:

  • Apache
  • MySQL
  • PHP

The requirements above must be met on a per-platform basis, so refer to the documentation on the platform intended to host OpenEMR. However, OpenEMR can be installed on Linux, various BSDs, Windows, and Mac.

Installing OpenEMR

I will demonstrate how simple it is to install OpenEMR. For this post, I explain how to install OpenEMR on a Ubuntu LAMP server. Follow these steps:

  1. Download the .deb file for Ubuntu from the OpenERM site.
  2. Open a terminal window.
  3. Change to the directory housing the newly downloaded .deb file.
  4. Issue the command sudo dpkg -i openemr_XXX.deb (where XXX is the release number).
  5. Debconf will open and prompt you for the MySQL root password. Enter the password and press Next.
  6. Allow Debconf to complete.

You’ll see errors at this point, but that’s okay, because we have the power of Synaptic to fix them. Follow these steps:

  1. From the terminal window, issue the command sudo synaptic.
  2. When Synaptic opens, it will inform you there are broken packages.
  3. Click Edit | Fix Broken Packages and click Apply.
  4. Allow Synaptic to download and install the remaining software.

The installation is complete, and all of the security issues (directory permissions) have been addressed.

Using OpenEMR

To log in to OpenEMR, point your browser to http://ADDRESS_TO_SERVER/openemr/ (where ADDRESS_TO_SERVER is the actual address of your OpenEMR server). When you’re prompted for the login (Figure A), the default credentials are:

user: admin

password: pass

Figure A

The OpenEMR login screen

Once you’re logged in, you’ll see the Main Screen for OpenEMR. The first thing you should do is go to Administration | Users | admin (Figure B) and change the administrative user’s password so it’s as secure as possible. (You can also change other information for the administrative user.)
Figure B

Change the administrative user’s password right away.

Now you can configure OpenEMR according to the needs of your facility. The initial setup and configuration is time-consuming because you have to add patient information one record at a time — there is no way to import patient records.

As you can see from the main window (Figure C), there are a lot of options and features available.
Figure C

The main interface provides a lot of information at a glance.

One particularly interesting feature (go to Administration | Files) allows you to create new messages and drop-down options (Figure D). You can even send messages to patients who use the Patient Portal by following these steps:

  1. Go to the Messages section.
  2. Select the type of message you want to send.
  3. Select the patient.
  4. Select the status.
  5. Type the message.
  6. Click Send Message.

Figure D

Above the reminders section is where specific system files can be edited or uploaded. Use caution when exploring this section.