|National EHealth Context (Overview)
Two main challenges of today’s health system are access to health care services, and access to real time information for decision making. At present, 70% of the population living in rural areas are still struggling with no or limited access to quality inpatient and outpatient care services. Recent health demographics studies showed that the segmented distribution of the health facilities and healthcare providers contribute largely to this alarming situation as exemplified by the fact that only 13% of healthcare providers and 40% of tertiary hospitals are situated in non-urban areas; let alone that on the average, the time it takes to travel to a local health facility usually takes around 39 minutes.
Moreover, delayed access to timely, reliable, accurate, and complete health information contributes to the challenges faced by decision makers. This condition is further worsened by various health data coming from disparate systems that use differing formats, lacking harmonization, and putting additional strain on already compromised data quality. Further, poor recording, processing and transfer of data from the health center/rural health unit to the provincial or city health office, the regional health office, and to the DOH Central Office takes more than a year with data validation at various levels.
Consistent with the foregoing, the health sector through the leadership of the Department of Health (DOH) has recognized the necessity of using information and communication technologies (ICT) for health or eHealth as one of the enabling strategic instruments not only to address these current disparities in service care delivery, and timely access to information for better decision making and intervention, but also, largely, to support and facilitate the achievement of the Universal Health Care (UHC) goals of better health outcomes, sustained health financing, and responsive health system. In its broadest sense, eHealth is concerned with improving the flow of information, through electronic means, to support and facilitate the delivery of quality and responsive health services, and better management of health systems and service delivery networks. It is envisioned that, “By 2020, eHealth will enable widespread access to health care services, health information, and securely share and exchange client’s information in support to a safer, quality health care, more equitable and responsive health system for all the Filipino people by transforming the way information is used to plan, manage, deliver and monitor health services.”
Guided by the Philippine eGovernment Master Plan of linking government data centers and databases to create a secure network for government information systems, and harmonize information technology systems, programs and projects in the public sector through the Medium-Term Information and Communication Technology Harmonization Initiative (MITHI), which is spearheaded by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), DOST, and the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), the Department of Health joined hands with the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) and Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in the development and implementation of the Philippine eHealth Strategic Framework and Plan (PEHSFP) 2013-2017.
The collaboration and partnership of the stakeholders are embodied in the issuance of the Joint DOH-DOST Department Memorandum (DM) No. 2013-0200 on the Creation of a Joint National Governance on eHealth (JNGeH), which later became the default MITHI eHealth Committee or Health Cluster, and later reconstituted with additional membership from the University of the Philippines Manila and Commission on Higher Education in April 2015 through Joint DOH-DOST DM No. 2015-0097 and 2015-0098. The aforesaid DM’s principal intents are to achieve synergy in the development, updating and implementation of the Philippine eHealth Strategic Plan to guide the establishment and sustainability of the National eHealth Program, and ensure harmonization, alignment and interoperability among various eHealth initiatives, programs and/or projects across the country, and in accordance with the MITHI objectives and international practices and directions.
Central to all these efforts is the robust collaboration and partnership among the various public and private segments in the healthcare and ICT sectors. The desired goal is an ICT-enabled environment for purposive, coordinated, harmonized and productive action among major stakeholders in building consensus on policies and protocols, facilitating optimal use of shared resources, and investing in ICT capacities in terms of infrastructure and competencies to support the national health system goals of better health outcomes, sustained health financing and equitable and responsive health systems.