A call for global exchange

In last month’s column, we discussed the flurry of policy activity at the national and state levels. Many other countries have joined the United States in deploying technology to improve health care.

For example:

* In Kenya, the Health Ministry and Moi University’s Faculty for Health Sciences have been running the Mosioriot Medical Record System since 2001.

* Health information technology (HIT) vendors in Bangladesh have launched the Integrated Rural Health Information System, a nationwide electronic health care project.

* Peruvian officials have made plans for an electronic disease surveillance and response system to track malaria, tuberculosis, hepatitis A and respiratory illnesses in one of the country’s remotest regions.

Are you surprised by those international health IT projects?

After all, we are part of a global health care community whose connections -- electronic or otherwise -- are growing every day. Other countries are exploring how IT can improve access, quality, safety and efficiency in health care systems. Many are implementing interconnected electronic health infrastructures, either regionally or nationally. Although a nation’s specific health care issues define the best ways of organizing, financing and deploying new technology, we all share a desire to make our citizens feel better and live longer.

For example, in the United States, we evaluate HIT and its potential for saving lives based on how effectively it can reduce medical errors, one of our most pressing health care concerns. Overseas, particularly in developing nations, the standard is different. Other countries tend to focus on HIT’s role in public health -- building immunization registries, conducting disease surveillance or preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. But the bottom line is the same: Officials worldwide want to harness HIT to improve health care.

The eHealth Initiative has entered this global arena by establishing the Leadership in Global Health Technology (LIGHT) Initiative as an extension of the organization’s mission to improve the safety, quality and efficiency of health care through information and IT. LIGHT’s goal is to facilitate learning and information sharing among HIT innovators in both the developed and developing world. Participants include eHealth Initiative members and experts from the public and private sector in global health care and HIT. LIGHT has created an ongoing schedule of global summits and meetings to fulfill its mission.

Already, we’re making progress in achieving our goals of working collaboratively for better health care through HIT and are active on six continents. LIGHT has convened two high-level summits, one in which 16 countries shared an overview of their HIT and infrastructure and discussed major challenges that they encountered. The second summit focused on generating innovative ideas for using HIT in global HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment efforts.

On World Health Day we launched the LIGHT Online Resource Center, which is available at www.ehealthinitiative.org/initiatives/global. The center -- part of our growing family of resources -- includes continent-specific summaries of HIT and quality activities, summaries of the global health policy landscape and an overview of global HIT collaboration areas. We are excited to extend the eHealth Initiative’s reach globally and believe we can make a valuable contribution in the worldwide dialogue to advance HIT for better health care services.

Famous humanitarian and researcher Jane Goodall once said, “only if we understand can we care. Only if we care will we help.” Through LIGHT we will both understand and help the global community advance the movement toward HIT for improved citizen health.

Janet M. Marchibroda is chief executive officer of the eHealth Initiative and executive director of the eHealth Initiative Foundation. She can be reached at janet.marchibroda@ehealthinitiative.org.

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