How data can improve primary healthcare

As the world marks the International Universal Health Coverage Day (UHC Day), a new report shows that countries can accelerate progress toward Health For All by using data to spur innovations in primary health care.

The Report, “Measuring What Matters, Case Studies on Data Innovations for Strengthening Primary Health Care,’’ was published by the Primary Health Care Performance Initiative (PHCPI).

The studies show that lack of affordable, quality health care continues to trap many in poverty.

Also, globally, as many as 100 million people a year are pushed into poverty due to high health care costs and about 30 per cent of households in Africa and Asia have to borrow money or sell assets to pay for health.

According to the report, achieving UHC, in which all people, irrespective of gender, age, status or location can obtain high quality health care, without risk of financial hardship depends on effective primary health care (PHC).

It features case studies that show how Argentina, Ghana, Rwanda, Senegal and Tanzania made groundbreaking strides with better data collection, analysis, dissemination and usage.

It said that these innovations have strengthened PHC which is the backbone of a country’s health system and resulted in significant improvements for their citizens’ health and wellbeing.

“Health systems vary from country to country but the backbone of each one people’s first and main source of care is the PHC.

“When grounded in an understanding of the context, challenges and priorities of local communities, PHC can meet the vast majority of people’s health needs at all stages of life.

“Communities can count on PHC providers for the majority of services they need, ranging from checkups during pregnancy and vaccines for children to management of chronic conditions or care at the end of life.

“With the necessary technology and equipment, well-trained PHC providers can track people’s health over time; refer them, when necessary, to more specialised care, and proactively engage with them to foster physical, mental, and social well-being.’’

The report said: “Comprehensively tracking population health and monitoring the delivery of PHC services is critical to improving PHC and achieving UHC.

“Fragmented service delivery and information systems can compromise patient care and outcomes.

“When care is not coordinated across facilities, providers struggle to track patient progress over time, and when historical data are not readily available, providers may make decisions without a complete understanding of the patient’s health.

“ Moreover, a lack of coordinated information systems often leads to duplicative data collection,’’ it said.

“When data are effectively captured and communicated from the community or facility level to district, regional, and national levels, policymakers, health system managers, and frontline providers can more easily diagnose problems, strategically direct investments, and monitor improvements.

“They can identify changing population needs and make needed adjustments in policy and practice in response.

“From the patient perspective, integrated data systems that build on and link information from different health programmes can increase continuity of care.

“Translating data into potent policy solutions that align with changing population health needs requires a culture of data use,’’ the report advised.

The UHC Day, commemorated each Dec. 12, is the anniversary of the first unanimous UN resolution calling for countries to provide affordable, quality health care to every person, everywhere.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals that all UN Member States have agreed to, try to achieve Universal Health Coverage by 2030. This includes financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.