The Big Picture of Human Resources for Health Data

A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of the health workforce is even more apparent. Despite advances over the last twenty years, gaps in how countries manage their health workforce remain. Many lack accurate counts of their workforce, such as their distribution by region and specialty. This data gap has hampered efficient pandemic response – including the roll out of vaccination programs, early detection, and COVID care, as well as sourcing supplies and maintaining non-COVID health services. This reflects the suboptimal ability of countries to accurately plan and manage their workforce, service delivery, and pandemic response. 

Human resource information systems (HRIS) are critical to evidence-based human resources for heath (HRH) policy and practices, but there is limited documentation on the capabilities of existing systems. Vital Wave, in partnership with IntraHealth and Cooper / Smith, conducted a global landscape. The partners found that countries have a wide range of practices and ecosystems in place, with some maintaining advanced, integrated information systems, while others have high fragmentation with little data, or no functioning system other than basic payroll. The assessment identified common bottlenecks including data availability, data quality and use, systems and tools, and human capabilities. For instance, data on community health workers and the private sector workforce are generally unavailable to governments. This means that Ministry of Health deployment decisions do not take these workers into account, potentially leading to less-than-ideal use of already limited resources and impeding referral planning. Additionally, system fragmentation leads to multiple duplicative information systems, high administrative burden, and parallel workflows. This results in inefficiencies, higher costs, and poor data quality. 

While many countries lack an accurate sense of the composition, location, and performance of their health workforce, there are also various pathways to success described in the final report Human Resources for Health: Workforce Analytics for Design and PlanningAcross the many recommendations, one that abides to all country contexts is the requirement to bring together the many different ministries and departments involved to ensure ongoing coordination and oversight. This will help move towards the goal of more integrated and effective systems. Getting HRIS right provides the Ministry of Health with an important tool for the improved design, planning, and management of the health workforce giving health workers the visibility and support required to do their work to the best of their abilities. Digital solutions are a necessary component in the suite of recommendations, but insufficient in and of themselves – governance oversight and ownership are critical to success.

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