New Publication Spotlight: Establishing and Using Data Standards in Health Workforce Information Systems

Human resources information systems help countries track and support their health workforces. Information systems are successful when they support policy and management decisions and when those decisions lead to better health care—but success depends on the quality of the human resources for health (HRH) data going into the system. How can countries ensure the quality of their data? A new CapacityPlus technical brief discusses organizational, national, and international data standards that can help.

Technical Brief 13In Establishing and Using Data Standards in Health Workforce Information Systems, authors Dykki Settle, Michael Webba Lwetabe, Amanda Puckett, and Carl Leitner of IntraHealth International consider different types of data standards and provide telling examples about why they matter. For example, international data standards can:

  • Facilitate regional and cross-country comparison of HRH issues
  • Define standard HRH terminology
  • Specify how information systems can communicate with one another to exchange health worker information across systems (interoperability).
National-level data standards are also important. Standardized definitions and job titles at the country level can make it possible to:
  • Accurately aggregate and analyze facility- and district-level data
  • Build a system-wide data dictionary
  • Create linkages so that different systems can aggregate and map the same data.
The authors point out that multisectoral stakeholder leadership groups can be key players in standardizing data elements for easier aggregation and analysis. An HRH stakeholder leadership group should include individuals involved in planning, producing, managing, and supporting a country’s health workforce. Stakeholders might include representatives of: the national health information system (of which the human resources information system should be viewed as a subset); eHealth activities; national statistics offices or bureaus of standards; and ministries of public service.

The technical brief also provides several country examples. In Uganda—prior to implementation of standards—differences in terminology and typographical errors caused the HR information system to convert 5 cadres into 34. In Kenya, a master facility list now makes it possible to map data from different systems to the same facilities. And in Ghana, a national health workforce observatory has helped the government set direction for the country’s health workforce in the areas of production, equitable distribution, management, and financing. The examples and the brief as a whole illustrate the importance of engaging and building the capacity of both data users and data producers.
To learn more, read the new publication, available as a PDF and an interactive online version. And please let us know what you think; we welcome your feedback.

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