Lessons on Integration: How We Use Mobile Data to Enhance Information Systems


Sarah Fohl

(Formerly) CCP | Program Officer II
Participants engage in discussion during a session at the Global mHealth Forum.

Participants engage in discussion during a session at the Global mHealth Forum.

We currently live in a period where data can translate into improved outcomes for many people. Through the use of technology in the health sector, digital solutions have helped empower health care workers and their clients to improve their work and lives.

It isn’t surprising that there is an ethical mandate that health care providers must act on available information to improve services, but there are a lack of standards guiding how that information is used. That is why “The Integration of Mobile Data into Information Systems” was a topic of discussion at the 2015 mHealth Summit among a diverse panel of speakers representing international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and private companies.

Jonathan Payne, Senior Technical Advisor at the United Nations Foundation, introduced the panel by highlighting how service delivery and continuity of care in lower resource settings are improving through a new wave of strategy development and defining national architecture in health information systems. The discussion among panelists was a diverse display of projects and approaches, yet I was inspired by the common messages around the importance of working within current ecosystems and building strong partnerships to support government stewardship of ideas.

Alain Labrique, Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, talked about how we are “on the verge of a third era of integration and scale” where governments are taking leadership and stewardship of new systems that focus on empowering health workers. Drew Schiller, Chief Technology Officer and Co-founder of Validic, echoed that sentiment and focused on the importance of standardizing information platforms to support efficiency and ease in continuity of care. Deborah Theobald, Executive Director of Vecna Cares Charitable Trust and Sheel Shah, Technical Project Manager at Dimagi Inc., separately voiced their commitments to working within established ecosystems and thinking “beyond the app.”

The most profound messages came from final thoughts inspired by audience questions. The primary theme was program sustainability, and Leah McManus, Program Officer at IntraHealth International, provided insight on lessons from the Ebola epidemic and the need to incorporate an iterative process with the Ministry of Health. This type of approach would help governments to better manage efforts and prevent duplications while still ensuring and promoting market competition.

As technology evolves at an exponential rate, we must work together to develop both immediate and long-term strategies. Integration of data requires the integration of ideas and non-technical considerations to improve health information systems. For me, this means ensuring our partnerships support local, governmental, and international stakeholders.