World Economic Forum Drives Health Data Initiative

The Global Health Data Charter calls for the use of technology to overcome worldwide gaps in health information collection, availability, privacy, and analysis.



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The World Economic Forum has launched the Global Health Data Charter, an initiative to advance global health through the management and collection of data. The charter aims to enable individuals and patients, health professionals, and policymakers to make more informed decisions through secure access to comprehensive health data.

Officials at the World Economic Forum in Geneva said at the charter's unveiling last week that accurate health data is not available across health systems operating in developed and developing countries, and that gaps in data can be overcome through the use of technology, which will be a main driver in the collection, analysis, and application of health information.

In an interview with InformationWeek, Olivier Raynaud, head of global health and healthcare industries at the World Economic Forum, said the charter is a foundation document that can be used by national and individual organizations and clinicians. Healthcare stakeholders, such as health research organizations, academia, providers, insurers, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), can play a role in and benefit from the capture, storage, sharing, and use of health data.

"Even though it is 2011, most health data is still captured with pen and paper. The cost of digital support for information is getting closer to zero and this immediately makes information easier to store, retrieve, share, and aggregate," Raynaud said. "There are large-scale programs taking place in the most challenging areas (such as the monitoring of pregnancies by BRAC, a large NGO in Bangladesh, where midwifes were equipped with PDAs), which have shown that it is perfectly feasible and generates immediate and tangible results.

He also said many nations are at a tipping point as they transition from paper-based systems to capturing health data electronically, and the hope is that the charter will help foster and enable a data-based, digital health era that will address global disparities in health.

"Disadvantaged populations will gain more from improved health data management; similar to what has been seen with mobile communication, digital health information has the potential to enable a dramatic change in the pace of progress towards universal coverage and access to health," Raynaud said.

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Developed by the World Economic Forum, with project advisory services and support provided by Deloitte and a broad group of stakeholders, the charter covers both clinical health data that will be used for wellness promotion as well as health management and operational data used for financial and administrative purposes.

Raynaud also explained that while the charter does not itself generate a platform or engage in the provision of data, it does calls for organizations to work towards the availability of accurate, high-quality health data when and where it is needed. The Global Health Data Charter consists of eight key principles representing the data gaps which the charter founders identified as the most pressing and most realistic to improve in the short term. These principles revolve around two fundamental gaps -- access to and privacy of health data.

Access refers to the ability to effectively and efficiently get the right data, in the right format, where and when it is needed. Privacy advocates for the development of protocols to address the challenges and risks associated with data misuse.

George Halvorson, CEO of Kaiser Permanente and member of the World Economic Forum global health advisory board, said in a statement that the charter will advance the management and access of health data.

"Access to better data is essential to identifying and understanding gaps, allocating resources, and monitoring interventions as well as furthering innovation and research. Better management of data is not only a best practice -- it's a business imperative," Halvorson said.

"The Global Health Data Charter is in line with the long-term strategy of HIMMS to advance the sharing and interoperability of health data -- good data is a prerequisite for making the right decisions at all levels," John P. Hoyt, executive VP at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, said in a statement. "(HIMMS) aims to encourage the adoption of the charter to its members and the organizations it surveys."

The charter has received endorsements from the Global Health Council (GHC), Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), International Council of Nurses (ICN), International Federation of Health Plans (IFHP), International Hospital Federation (IHF), International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP), Population Services International (PSI), Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), and World Information Technology Services Association (WITSA).

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