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“When you have common interfaces, common protocols, then everyone can innovate and everyone can interoperate. Companies can build their businesses, consumers can expand their choices, the technology moves forward faster, and users get more benefit..”
—Craig Barrett (1)
Logistics management information systems are often made up of multiple software applications that support specific needs, such as warehouse management, fleet management, forecasting, and procurement. To share relevant data from each of these systems, not only must the data be well structured, but each system must be able to recognize how data from one system relates to its own structure. For public health logistics information management systems, we need, as a community, to develop and agree on standards to promote interoperability.
In a meeting held in April 2012, sponsored by the WHO and ITU (International Telecommunication Union) in Geneva, participants discussed the current state of eHealth standards, needs, and some early lessons. In a linked effort, routine health information systems experts met in South Africa in May 2012 to address needs for standards as they relate particularly to data collection and analysis (vs. standardized software). We should learn from these discussions, and move forward on public health standards for eLMIS. Salient points from those discussions include:
- Currently, there are many standards, but there are no standards that adequately cover eLMIS and mHealth needs.
- Public sector standards should be thought through, and as a result, will take time to create. Unlike a software application that changes often as the business changes, and sometimes due to missing requirements, standards must be stable in order to avoid disruption to others’ work.
- Standards do not necessarily translate into adherence. In a particularly poignant example, one sub-Saharan African country noted that they have had a national enterprise architecture framework, as well as a health sector ICT policy since 2005. However, the representative noted that often, donors fund projects which come in with applications that do not follow their standards.
- Putting standards into practice. Once implemented, the management of, and adherence to standards are an ongoing effort. Authority should be given to the right individuals, and procedures put in place to make their actions transparent.
Call To Action (please leave in comments):
- Create eLMIS standards: As a community, let us formulate the standards – in architecture, for metadata – and ensure that they do not require any fees for use.
- Tell us about your successes: What has worked for your projects? Tell us about the processes, standards, human resources that have made adherence to standards a success. And let us know how this has supported the goal of data interoperability for improved health reporting.
Mimi Whitehouse is an MIS Advisor at JSI.