The reality of the current pandemic, though awful, is full of lessons and Nepal’s sustainable progression towards development depends on how well it uses the lessons learnt today in the future. One such lesson for Nepal—and probably every developing country today—would be to realize the importance of information in the health care system. A fact well established now is that rapid and timely public health responses during the last few months could have saved many lives from the virus, which unfortunately has not been the case in Nepal. Therefore, the need for a robust Health Information System (HIS) has been more urgent now than ever in the past.
Health Information System (HIS), the need of the hour?
To put it plainly, a Health Information System (HIS) includes a range of technology that acquires, stores, analyzes and eventually converts medical data into information relevant for health-related decision making. Therefore, the system allows health planners and decision-makers to make right and timely decisions on the basis of socio-economic, environmental and behavioral health determinants, health outcomes such as mortality, morbidity, and disease outbreaks, performance of health systems and many other indicators. Data collection is usually carried out from entities such as hospitals and facilities in health and other relevant sectors.
One benefit of such system is that determinants like mortality, disability, heath status and disease outbreaks are crucial, not only in tracking and quantifying progress but also in directing policy makers to allocate resources to areas that need the most. Hence, efficient coverage of the population in terms of health care services can be critical in responding to global health crisis such as the COVID-19. Furthermore, the aggregated patient data across the nation can help policy makers and other stakeholders identify health-related trends and make decisions accordingly. This prevents gross mismanagement of healthcare resources on all levels of governance; a possibility that is far from today’s reality in Nepal.
In addition, Health Information System can also provide collaborative care to patients. Since patients often need services from various health care providers, the data repository in the Heath Information System can allow healthcare facilities to access common health records of the patients, reducing the cost on the end of both patients and hospitals. Moreover as hospitals get efficient, rapid delivery of health care services in emergency situations such as the ongoing pandemic can swiftly go on as hospitals and healthcare facilities can digitally share necessary information to ensure timely medical intervention.
Pertinent challenges and way forward:
All this might seem possible only in a fantastical la-la land but HIS’ reality is not so distant. With the advent of the internet and its widespread accessibility, data entry has now been easier than ever. Health care facilities can use online reporting and web-based data entry to help the system do its job. For all this to come to fruition, digitalization of the healthcare system is key.
However, there are pragmatic issues to consider before moving forward with HIS. Firstly, considering that many regions in Nepal are devoid of even proper healthcare facilities, let alone the manpower capable of digitalizing medical records, steps should be taken towards building and subsequently connecting healthcare facilities through a digital medium. The second issue is that of privacy and ethics. Since a project of such scale would require cross-sectorial partnerships and investments, efforts to uphold ethical handling of patients’ data and to reduce unnecessary and threatening privacy invasions from every concerned entity is paramount to making the Health Information System work. Additionally, smart investments in healthcare from public and private sectors from and beyond Nepal are a good start towards building a HIS in Nepal and hence, ensuring that we do not have to at the mercy of a virus or any other crisis in the future.
As cliched as it might sound, modern problems do indeed require modern solutions and if our enemies are going to be elusive and dangerous viruses like the coronavirus and other deadly public health crises that might follow in the future, our answer should be digitalization.
 “Health Information Systems” , World Health Organization, Retrieved from-https://www.who.int/healthinfo/statistics/toolkit_hss/EN_PDF_Toolkit_HSS_InformationSystems.pdf
 “Strengthening Health Information System”, The Rising Nepal, Retrieved from – https://risingnepaldaily.com/opinion/strengthening-health-information-system