Philippines can be a model for health informatics, says WHO exec
By Anna Valmero

MANILA CITY, METRO MANILA— Other countries in Asia Pacific can learn from the Philippines in using information communications technology, particularly the mobile phone, in delivering healthcare services to the poor living in remote areas, an official of the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

The Aquino administration drafted the electronic Health (eHealth) strategic framework from 2010 to 2016, which aims to establish a policy agenda for health informatics in the country and management information systems to deliver healthcare services that support the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“The eHealth strategic framework of the Philippines can be a good model for other countries to follow, especially as inroads on the use of text messaging to deliver healthcare to barrios have been proven effective,” said Mark Landry, health information technical officer, health information, evidence and research at WHO Western Pacific Regional Office.

The roadmap requires the use of health data collection standard to ensure effective knowledge management systems and quality evaluation and monitoring of emerging infectious diseases even before they become an epidemic, while achieving MDG targets such as lowering maternal mortality rate, Landry said.

Some 94 out of 100,000 Filipino mothers die during childbirth due to lack of access to healthcare facilities. Below 80 percent of births in the country are attended by skilled health personnel, with most mothers in remote areas and provinces attended by traditional hilot or healer.

In a separate interview, Crispinita Valdez, director of the Department of Health (DoH) information management service division, said even before the eHealth framework, the agency is already monitoring maternal and neonatal tracking system in 16 regions.

Dubbed as the WOMB project, the ongoing monitoring system is funded by the now defunct Commission on Information Communications Technology (CICT) for P36 million.

The project is piloted to monitor pregnant women in Oriental Mindoro, one of the provinces with high rates of maternal mortality and under-five child deaths, said Valdez.

Under the project, Valdez said that doctors to the barrio who lack the laboratory equipment to analyze patients can send in photos of skin lesions, for example and medical data of the patient to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH)_for proper identification and medical advice.

Through text reporting, the doctors in remote villages are also urged to report cases of maternal and neonatal death as well as their causes and the location of the village versus a health care facility. Through this information, Valdez said they will make a geographic information system (GIS) mapping of neonatal deaths and identify villages that need additional health centers and personnel.

This is to avoid delays in reporting as rural health units often issue reports to the DoH central office two years later, which means a delay in prompt delivery of healthcare services, Valdez said.

The sub-agency under DoH is eying to provide a computer or laptop unit in each RHU so they could immediately process and input their medical data in clinics, and then send them online, by going to computer shops for Internet access.

Valdez hopes that funding for this strategy will be included in the 2012 budget so they can fully update records.

“The lack of resources and manpower remain an issue in health informatics in the country. For example, an LGU will prioritize hiring a nurse or doctor instead of a statistician to handle and analyze the medical data for a certain region. This remains a challenge for health informatics to fully achieve its potential in the country but we are making do with what we have like using text messaging,” Valdez said.
On the government health insurance side, Mario Mataguihan, information technology management senior manager at Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), said the agency is already implementing online eligibility checking for members.

“This means that members no longer have to bring lots of documents to hospitals to avail of services, they just need to tell their PhilHealth number and name in the database. In a matter of minutes, the hospital will be able to process their application,” Mataguihan said.

Work to link the PhilHealth to the conditional cash transfer program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is also underway, he added.


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