OpenClinica CRF Library

UPDATE (03-May-2010): The CRF Library is now live at

Our vision at Akaza Research is to accelerate clinical research through open technology infrastructure. We do this through an open source software license, supporting a participatory community, and adhering to published open standards.

We are nearing another milestone that will further this vision. The OpenClinica CRF Library, currently in the final stages of development, will allow users to find, share, and re-use case report forms (CRFs) for OpenClinica. By utilizing the OpenClinica CRF Library, users will be able to:

  • Enable faster study startup by accessing a well organized, searchable database of OpenClinica CRF templates
  • Promote data standardization within their organization through re-use of CRFs that adhere to open industry standards
  • Derive customized versions from standardized CRF templates simply by editing the OpenClinica CRF Templates
  • Minimize time and cost spent on study training, testing, and validation by accessing value-added resources and documentation (including implementation guides, CRF Completion Guidelines, and test scripts) associated with the CRF templates in the library.

The library will be searchable by keyword and browsable by CRF type. Most CRFs are derived from authoritative, public standards sources such as the CDISC Clinical Data Acquisition Standards Harmonization (CDASH) initiative and the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Data Standards Repository (caDSR).

In keeping with our vision, the CRF Library is the product of a participatory community and is based on open source software. Last April, we assembled a volunteer Steering Committee to guide development of the library. Committee members Liz Watts of Starfire Research, Lori Brix of Silent Partners, Derek Wimmer of Wimmer Clinical, and Elisa Priest of Baylor Research Institute have worked scrupulously to identify content, develop supporting materials for the CRFs, and implement workflows that will ensure quality resources. Their substantial knowledge of the CDASH standard and data management expertise has been invaluable. The broader community has also had a hand in building out this resource, through the user mailing list and at meetings of the OpenClinica Community Virtual Forum.

Content & Quality

One of the first questions the Steering Committee asked was, ‘How do we manage quality of content and metadata?’ There are many community-driven, peer-review, and commercial validation models that could work, from a loose ‘wikipedia’-style structure to more rigid frameworks for curation and standardization. We needed to adopt the right mix for our content and our community. The Committee emphasized the need for a high-quality ‘core’ set of CRFs that have broad applicability across studies, align to leading standards, and are accompanied by detailed resources which aid in implementation. At the same time, a larger, more diverse repository of CRF content would make the library useful to many in the OpenClinica community.

The result of this has been to create two broad classes of CRFs in the library, Curated CRFs and and Non-Curated CRFs.

Curated CRFs have gone through a rigorous peer review, testing, and annotation process. They include enhanced metadata, detailed specifications, validation test scripts, enhanced edit checks, and reference documentation such as an Implementation Guide and CRF Completion Guidelines. The initial collection of Curated CRFs in the library will be aligned with the CDASH Domains. The intent is to make it as easy as possible to implement these CRFs into a study, in ‘as-is’ or customized form, with confidence in the quality and accuracy of the CRF.

Non-Curated CRFs will be contributed by members of the community who wish to share their CRFs with others, or will be derived from existing non-proprietary electronic sources such as the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Data Standards Repository (caDSR). These CRFs undergo less formal review and testing and have fewer supporting materials, instead will rely more heavily on community feedback and annotations.

Because of the significant investment made in annotation, review, and testing, full access to Curated CRFs and all the associated metadata, documentation, and associated resources will be available only to OpenClinica Enterprise Edition Subscribers. Non-Curated CRFs, and limited versions of Curated CRFs without detailed metadata or documentation will be freely available to all members of the OpenClinica community.


Based on past discussions on the OpenClinica mailing lists and the Community Virtual Forum, we see substantial interest among community members in contributing and sharing CRFs. This is a very exciting prospect, and we will need community members to contribute enough quality CRF content to make the approach viable. Many community members have expressed interest in sharing their CRFs for others’ benefit, but also identified it as a way to get feedback and improve the forms for their own purposes. To provide a foundation for such contributions, the CRF Library will adhere to the following principles:

1) Contributors will be appropriately attributed and recognized for their contributions. Creative Commons ( provides widely used guidelines and license agreements to enable this type of sharing. CRFs in the library or derived therefrom will be made available under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Contributors must represent that they (or their organization) have the legal right to contribute a CRF, and are not infringing on someone else’s copyright. When featuring the most popular or most highly rated CRFs, the CRF Library will highlight the identity of the contributor (at least by screen name).

2) Members of the community will be empowered to build on and improve others’ contributions for the benefit of all. All community-contributed CRFs will also be freely available to community members, and we will put into place popularity, versioning, and annotation features to allow users of a CRF to provide feedback and/or modifications to the original author.

Next Steps

As I mentioned at the start of the post, we are approaching roll-out of the CRF Library within initial CDASH-based content, and starting acceptance of community contributions. The roll-out will be aligned with the OpenClinica Global Conference (March 22nd in Bethesda, MD USA) and the CRF Library will be a featured topic at the event. It’s been a long time in development and we are excited to be nearing this milestone!

CDASH: A new way to standardize data elements

Many people who work with EDC systems have heard of or been impacted by CDISC, Clinical Data Interchange Standards Consortium.  CDISC’s mission is to develop and support global, platform-independent data standards that enable information system interoperability to improve medical research and related areas of healthcare.  They have many different initiatives, but one of their newest ones promises to aid the development and use of electronic Case Report Forms (eCRFs), the foundation of an EDC system.

Clinical Data Acquisition Standards Harmonization, (CDASH) aims to standardize ways of collecting data in a clinical trial.  The current EDC landscape has hundreds, even thousands, of different eCRFs that capture essentially the same information, but with CDASH’s initiative one common data element can be used for each piece of information collected.

The initiative is not being pushed to enforce the way an eCRF looks and feels; rather, it seeks to standardize the way the fields and data on a form map to a database.  Allowing users to create eCRFs with one standard in mind will allow the users to re-use their work again and again rather than having to create new eCRFs the next time they begin a study.

By mapping OpenClinica CRFs to CDASH content standards (element name, definition, and the related metadata) users of OpenClinica can access a basic set of global data collection fields with semantics agreed upon by representatives from Contract Research Organizations (CROs), Academia, Government and Industry.  These CRFs can be found in the OpenClinica Enterprise CRF Library.