Effective Health Information System Key To Health Sector

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Senior Mediical Officer of Health, Dr. Elizabeth Ferdinand (Left) looks over some documents used in polyclinics with Software Instructor in the Ministry of Health, Maria George (Centre)??and Epidemiologist, Dr. Natasha Sobers-Grannum (Right), at the recently-held workshop at the headquarters of the Pan- American Health Organisation (PAHO), Dayrells Road,??that aimed to review, revise and standardise forms/instruments used in??data collection.

A better functioning public Health Information System (HIS) can significantly benefit Barbados’ health sector.

Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Joy St. John, made these comments recently while addressing a workshop for health care teams from polyclinics across the island.?? The workshop was organized?? to review and revise existing data collection forms and other instruments towards ??their standardisation and was held at the Pan American Health Organisation, Dayrells Road.

Acknowledging that information management was fundamental to health-care delivery, Dr. St. John said an effective system was key to having "a more efficient organisation which would be able to respond more quickly to surveillance abnormalities".

She added: "A good public HIS would seek to develop a system, which would have as one of its objectives the improvement of population health and health status through dealing with the most risky and prevailing health issues facing our society. We therefore see public health information systems as networks of interconnected stakeholders working together, through the systematic application of information and communication technologies to achieve timely, high-quality and cost effective public health services."

It was also explained that a range of specialties, including disease surveillance, health risk services and immunisation programmes, were covered by a public HIS. ??Dr. St. John stressed: "HIS can determine and describe the magnitude of health problems and their sources, analyse risk factors, continually evaluate, refine and implement what works and promote the health and well-being of the entire population."

While outlining the goal of the Health Ministry with respect to a HIS, the senior health official stated this was "to develop and implement a sustainable and integrated health information system that empowers communities, health workers and decision makers to improve the coverage, quality and efficiency of health services."

Giving some background to the establishment of the HIS, she revealed that, in 2002, the Health Ministry and PAHO conducted a joint assessment of the Measures of Essential Public Health Functions on the island. ??The assessment, which was based on the opinions of senior officers drawn from throughout the Ministry, the University of the West Indies, and PAHO, provided an objective evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the Ministry in delivering its public health functions. According to Dr. St. John, the conclusions reached were that "areas of research, information management, planning and policy formulation, and monitoring health systems were patently weak, since the scores for these activities fell in the quartiles below average performance, less than 50 per cent".

Explaining that the increasing prevalence of chronic, occupational as well as emerging diseases, violence and injuries called for a different approach to effectively deal with contemporary health challenges, the CMO maintained the most important use of health information/data was to inform policy and decision making at all levels of the health system.

However, she conceded that there were limitations in the current information systems. Dr. St. John disclosed: "The relative lack of evidence-based decision making to formulate policy or decisions is a direct result of the major limitations of the Barbadian health information systems and has thus led to a lack of dissemination of information to the local (inter-ministerial and ministerial) levels and the community at large. Additionally data from sentinel sites (polyclinics) is not timely.

"We need to implement a system where data being collected from all sources are systematically analysed to give a concise and quick analysis of the health situation of the country." jgill@barbados.gov.bb

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