To provide optimal care, healthcare institutions need timely patient information from various sources at the point-of-care, and need a comprehensive, complete and fully functional system to fulfill all these needs.
Reliable and timely health information is an important element in health information system development. Collection of pertinent data and its related analysis to provide compulsory evidence for assessing the development and performance of health systems at national and sub-national levels is a major responsibility of any health information system.
The purpose of a health information system is to improve the ability to collect, store and analyze accurate health data, service delivery efficiency, improve data accuracy, effectiveness of intervention, increase accountability and learn about developments.
The intention of the health information system is to record information on health events and check the quality of services at different levels of healthcare. The health information system can be compared to the nervous system of the human body as the human body cannot function unless the nervous system is properly and synergistically giving the right electrical signals through the medium of different chemicals or enzymes in the human body. Similarly, the proper and systematic functioning of the health information system requires good coordination of its components, starting from the data gatherers at the most peripheral level of the health system up to the central Ministry of Health level. If the health information system is not generating legitimate and accurate information, we will not be able to know about the factual performance of the healthcare system, including its public health component.
Health management information systems or health information systems are the systems used to collect, analyze, retain, retrieve and evaluate health information. The WHO (2005) article on “Issues in Health Information” adds to this definition by stating that a health information system integrates all the data needed by policy makers, clinicians and health service users to improve and protect population health. Health information systems generally express one of these several separate subsystems containing data:
• Disease surveillance and outbreak notification.
• Data generated through household surveys.
• Registration of vital events and censuses (births, deaths and causes of death).
• Data collection based on patient and service records and reporting from community health workers, health workers and health facilities.
• Programme-specific monitoring and evaluation (for example: TB, HIV/AIDS, and EPI).
• Administration and resource management (including budget, personnel, and supplies).
Good decisions, effective policies, services, and behaviours require timely, accurate, and relevant information. Information is a means to the end of improving health, but the availability and accessibility of consistent information does not guarantee its use or improved decision making. Since decisions are often obsessed as much by politics as by evidence, it is critical to design information systems to meet the needs of decision makers and to create a culture of evidence that provides incentives and accountability for evidence-based decision making.
Presently, there is a need to improve the access to information and knowledge in the developing countries like Pakistan.
Research in the health information systems will be influential in both accelerating equitable access of information and improving the management and use of knowledge for improved health. Investments in comprehensive development of the HIS can accelerate broad improvements in health if they are engineered to reflect, reinforce, and even drive health sector reforms.
HIS investments hold the promise not only of transforming public health, but also of accelerating progress towards good governance in health sector.