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Integrating ICTs within health systems

June 10, 2016
Integrating ICTs within health systems

In building a culture of evidence-based planning, NEHSI has integrated information and communication technologies (ICTs) to help improve service delivery, build local capacity for primary health care, and address the challenges of rural isolation. But for too long, ICT and health system researchers have worked in isolation from one another. There is limited evidence on how electronic health (eHealth) technologies can be used to enable the governance and functioning of health systems in low-income countries. Starting with the gaps in the health system —rather than the technology—there is a need  to better understand how these tools can strengthen service provision and use, support decision-making, contribute to fair resource allocation, and increase responsiveness to user needs.

IDRC is working to fill this gap through SEARCH (Strengthening Equity through Applied Research Capacity building in eHealth), a multi-regional initiative that seeks to build knowledge on the integration of ICTs with health systems in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. SEARCH is devoting CA$2.5 million over 3 years to a series of research and training grants. It aims to deepen understanding of the relationship between eHealth, equity, governance, and systems integration and build research capacity through networking, training, and communications.

SEARCH builds on a large body of eHealth research supported by IDRC that has contributed to health information systems. In Mozambique, for example, through the M-OASIS (Mozambican Open Architecture Standards and Information Systems) project, researchers worked with the national Ministry of Health to design an electronic mortality registration system. Tested in Maputo’s central hospital, it codes causes of death using ICD-10, the current international standard for classifying disease. It produced the first systematic data collected routinely in Mozambican hospitals, and has since been approved for roll out across the country.

Technological innovations such as this are just one component of strong health information systems. They depend ultimately on fostering the leadership and technical skills to make decisions based on evidence, applying rigorous data collection and analysis methods, and involving healthcare providers and users. Supporting social participation and enhancing local capacity are vital. 

Learn more about IDRC-supported research on health information systems​