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Data sharing that works

By Dykki Settle, Senior Technical Advisor, BID Initiative

Jan 28, 2016

Posted in ,

Community health workers consult a range of data sources while attending to a mother and child at an immunization clinic.

A central part of BID’s work is making data more available and accessible for anyone who needs it is. Photo: PATH.

Collecting and using data is great in theory. Data can help measure progress, streamline processes, empower decision-makers, and create a better experience overall for those receiving services. In practice though, sharing data to support these positive outcomes can be a bit messy. As people invest in and develop ownership in a data system, an agreed upon set of practices and governance rules is needed to facilitate sharing between systems. Crucial components of data sharing are accessibility, or making data more widely available to others, and interoperability, or exchanging data with other systems.

Accessible tools and information

The key to making data accessible is understanding the needs of those who might value it. For each system, the range of user needs can run from a midwife who wants to know the HIV status of a mother for the administration of PMTCT (prevention of mother to child transmission) to health workers who are looking for confirmation of their employment grade to immunization officers seeking to raise immunization coverage rates. Whether it’s a paper or software system, data should ultimately be accessible to anyone who needs it.

For example, while the practice of recording births and assigning a unique identifier to each child is at the core of the BID Initiative, it’s not exactly new. There are many other entities collecting nearly the same data, and we’re all focused on improving the health of our target populations. We’re just doing it in different ways, whether it’s through immunizations, improved nutrition, or bed net distribution to protect against malaria. Rather than having health workers enter information into a multitude of different systems, the goal is to get the data to talk to each other. If we can establish a standard of data exchange between different data systems, we can connect to any system using our preferred system and/or dashboard, to pull the data we need.

Nurses meet with mothers and infants during an immunization clinic.

A nurse’s ability to quickly access a child’s immunization record with a unique identifier, such as a barcode, and an electronic immunization registry reduces wait times, allowing more children to be immunized in a single day. Photo: PATH.

Getting the data to talk

The challenge in getting the data to talk lies in the connections between systems connection, better know as interoperability. This is a socio-political problem masquerading as a technical problem. Before technologies and systems can be made to interoperate, the developers, owners, and users have to be in agreement about what data needs to be exchanged, how often, and under what rules. This is the governance side of interoperability.

With the electronic immunization registry under development in the BID Initiative’s demonstration countries, we are focusing on the data needed to complete a few key records in order to collect birth, immunization, and caregiver contact data. Once collected, all of these data are stored in a shared health record that is accessible by other registries and systems. This means that even if a child visits a facility outside of their home region, the health system will be able to report to the nurse at the new facility what immunizations the child has received and which are now due.

Coordination and collaboration

The immunization registry, shared health record, and other shared services are built within an architecture that includes an open interoperability layer. This allows them to easily connect, consuming and contributing information as needed.

Tanzanian stakeholders have invited the BID Initiative to model this kind of interoperability for the immunization use case in a way that allows them to envision how the architecture could be extended to cover all health services. BID is proud to not only pioneer life changing immunization data systems and use but also to model the state of the art in data accessibility and interoperability.

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