Stronger Health Systems through Better Data Use
A framework that outlines the unique role of health data in strengthening health systems is presented in MEASURE Evaluation’s recently published Improving Data Use in Decision Making: An Intervention to Strengthen Health Systems.
Commitments to effective health information systems are often based on the belief that better quality, relevance, and comprehensiveness of data will lead to increased use of data, and to data-informed decision making. However, too often data sit in reports, on shelves, or in databases and are not sufficiently used in program development and improvement, policy development, strategic planning, or advocacy. The new report details interventions that can be implemented to improve the use of data in decision making.
The report’s recommendations and guidelines tie into the World Health Organization’s six attributes or building blocks that are important to improving health systems, with health information as one of the building blocks. The report sees effective use of data within health information systems as a key step that will lead to improvements in the other five components: health workforce; health services; health financing; governance and leadership; and medical products, vaccines, and technologies. For example, health systems require quality data from health information systems to plan for and ensure that the workforce is fully funded and equipped with the necessary commodities, infrastructure, resources, and policies to deliver services.
Tara Nutley of MEASURE Evaluation developed the conceptual framework presented in the report with input from a project-based working group. Nutley says the report came about because the area of data use is not well defined and, therefore, not well understood. Moreover, MEASURE Evaluation frequently receives requests to measure data use, but well-articulated interventions for improving the use of data to actually improve health outcomes are lacking. “You have to know what you’re going to do before you can measure the change it creates,” she says.
Some of the interventions recommended in the report for improving data use include engaging data users and data producers in the information collection and use process, strengthening organization’s systems to support sustained data use, and identifying information needs.
The conceptual framework “will help people understand that improving information systems does not necessarily mean decisions are going to be based on data,” Nutley said. “Specific attention also needs to be placed on moving the improved information into the hands of the people who need it.”
You can access the report at http://www.cpc.unc.edu/measure/publications/SR-12-73.