How digital transformation is driving action in healthcare

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This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Ruma Bhargava, Country Lead, Healthcare, World Economic Forum, Steve Ollis, Director, Country Health Information Systems and Data Use (CHISU)


  • Digital transformation in healthcare is growing rapidly year-on-year.
  • Health information systems are designed to manage healthcare data.
  • CHISU project is helping countries in their digital transformation journey.

Digital transformation has been a hot topic in the healthcare industry in recent years. Spending on digital transformation surpassed $1.3 trillion worldwide and it is growing at a whopping 10.4% year on year. In a study conducted by Deloitte, around 92% of healthcare professionals and institutes achieved better performance from digital transformation.

It has become a common term in the media but many people still ask, “What does digital transformation actually mean?” Most tend to believe that it is all about the latest technology and systems, and forget that there are different aspects to consider, particularly how people and technology interact.

Digital transformation happens when interactions among institutions and clients help enable positive changes in the health information system. It is more of an organizational change and it enables improvement in health systems agility, thereby improving operational excellence and patient experience, as well as reducing costs.

What is a health information system?

A national health information system (HIS) includes elements and processes designed to produce information that can be used to improve decision-making across the health sector.

According to the World Health Organization, a HIS “provides the underpinnings for decision-making and has four key functions: data generation, compilation, analysis and synthesis, and communication and use.”

Health information systems collect data from the health and other relevant sectors, analyze it and ensure its overall quality, relevance and timeliness, converting data into information for health-related decision-making.

A robust HIS not only alerts governments about outbreaks and potential emergencies, but it can also support high-quality patient care and health facility management, health situation analyses and planning, and trend analyses and reporting.

In order to improve a HIS, it is important to understand how data systems are used, as well as users and managers’ behaviours that might influence performance, which offer key insights on how to change them. People are central to this equation.

One cannot just bring in the technology without knowing who is involved in managing health systems and who can foster changes. Data gathering and analysis also reflect these factors. You need the people involved to understand the need for – and be invested in – evolving processes.

Project designed to strengthen health information systems

The Country Health Information Systems and Data Use (CHISU) programme was launched two years ago to better understand these dynamics and help strengthen countries’ capacity to manage and use high-quality health information systems to improve evidence-based decision-making. CHISU aims to strengthen the governance and enabling environment of host countries’ HIS, and increase the availability and interoperability of quality health data and information systems.

The programme experts are proud to go beyond technology, moving from strategy to action to promote organizational and process evolution in countries’ HIS. For instance, CHISU is promoting cross-governmental working groups and district data use meetings, alongside scaling and sustaining the systems that support transition from paper registers to online visualizations for decision-making.

Discover

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CHISU is also working closely with governments and other partners in eight countries and two regions to increase demand and use of health data and information to address health priorities, gaps, and challenges, strengthening sustained health data use. The results achieved are encouraging, including more than 50 interventions related to HIS governance, systems and software, data quality and use, as well as gender considerations carried out at national and subnational levels across continents.

CHISU has become a trusted partner for governments and other programme implementers in a short period. While taking the time to understand each country’s unique ecosystem and to ensure that stakeholders are engaged, the programme has also moved quickly to support the development of national HIS Strategies, supported the expansion of national systems and cleared data backlogs.

In Indonesia, CHISU has been helping the Ministry of Health as it developed and launched a new data exchange platform, SATUSEHAT, a key product of the country’s Digital Health Transformation Strategy. The programme is also supporting key meetings of the HIS technical working groups, the implementation of the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIRⓇ) standards that the country has selected and the establishment of a digital maturity index to support the national effort to assess and measure progress in its digital transformation journey.

Additionally, CHISU will help develop a comprehensive data to action capacity strengthening programme at national and regional levels. This action plan will include a component dedicated to systematizing data quality improvement processes. It will focus on data analytics, improving FHIRⓇ database use, ensuring understanding of key gender considerations, and building foundational elements for the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Investing in digital health

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development highlights that the spread of information and communications technology and global interconnectedness has great potential to accelerate human progress, to bridge the digital divide and to develop knowledge societies.

Despite progress, many countries still require institutional support for the development and consolidation of national e-health and digital health strategies, as well as for the implementation of their action plans, which usually requires more resources and capabilities.

In order to sustain improvements, it is important to invest and coordinate efforts on the ground, including governments, donors and the private sector, with a broader approach rather than a focus solely on technology.

With COVID-19 exposing pre-existing vulnerabilities in many health systems and the value of having quality data available for decision-making, it is time digital health becomes an integral part of health priorities and benefits people in a way that is ethical, safe, secure, reliable, equitable and sustainable.

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