Hospitals and health workers have long recognized the importance of good information. A knowledge of

Hospitals and health workers have long recognized the
importance of good information. A knowledge of diagnoses made by doctors in the
past, and a record of treatments that were given to patients along with the
outcomes, all help to create the most promising treatment plans for future
patients. Information on the geography of health problems also helps to create
a national strategy that can be used to make health-related decisions and plan
responses to disease outbreaks. The data may even be used to predict and
prevent those outbreaks. South Africa’s Health Information Systems Program is a

Hospitals and health workers have long recognized the
importance of good information. A knowledge of diagnoses made by doctors in the
past, and a record of treatments that were given to patients along with the
outcomes, all help to create the most promising treatment plans for future
patients. Information on the geography of health problems also helps to create
a national strategy that can be used to make health-related decisions and plan
responses to disease outbreaks. The data may even be used to predict and
prevent those outbreaks. South Africa’s Health Information Systems Program is a
not-for-profit non-governmental organization that aims to empower healthcare
workers and decision makers to improve the coverage, quality and efficiency of
health services through the use of open standards and data exchange mechanisms.
They subscribe to an open source philosophy, freely sharing their training
materials and software solutions. Their staff members include nine software
developers and ten database administrators who create web-based and mobile
solutions. This use of web standards means that their software will run on most
operating systems and on most devices, which means there will be few, if any,
access problems. One of their main systems, called DHIS2, is used to collect a
range of data. This includes case-based data from in-patient admissions,
essentially recording the who, what, when and where of patients being seen.
Data is also stored on disease outbreaks and responses. New mothers and young
children are seen as being particularly vulnerable, and so data is stored to
improve their care. The results of lab tests and information on stocks of drugs
and other treatments in hospitals are also recorded, as is data on patient
deaths. The system includes a variety of ways to view all of this including
charts and graphs. Geographic features that allow users to view maps of hospitals
and to visualize the catchment areas for each are also available. All of this
is seen through a clear, easy to navigate, information dashboard. One important
but previously often overlooked feature that is included in DHIS2 is social
net-working. In other words, DHIS2 allows for communication between users. This
often encourages knowledge sharing and means that health professionals do not
have to work in isolation. Patients too are realizing the importance of sharing
their data. For instance, in a case unrelated to the HIS program, South African
members of Patients LikeMe recently contributed to an online survey of drug use
which gave health professionals vital information. Patients LikeMe is a
web-based community of patients who compare the treatments they receive, and
discuss their symptoms and experiences. The goal is for patients to support
each other and to use the data generated to develop new treatment plans using
cutting edge analytics. Towards that goal, in 2016 the NHS in the UK gave a
company owned by Google access to 1.6 million patients from three hospitals.
One of the goals is to develop software to alert staff to patients at risk of
deterioration and death through kidney failure. However, local papers have
reported that some patients are concerned about privacy and sharing sensitive
data with a private company.

1. What devices could be used to collect health information
and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

2. What are the advantages of health professionals
discussing patients with each other online? Are there any disadvantages?

3. Why do you think the Health Information Systems Program
uses an open source philosophy?

4. Why are patients concerned with sharing sensitive data
with a private company?

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