Dharma Platform had the opportunity to attend the 5th Annual DHIS 2 Symposium in Washington, DC this April. Data scientists, health officials, medical workers and technologists from international NGOs, institutions, ministries of health and private companies came together to ask and answer questions on how data and digital technologies can be implemented to drive decision making, management, and impact on a global scale. BAO Systems, a friend of Dharma Platform and DHIS2 integrator, sponsored the event.
What is DHIS2 anyway?
DHIS2 is an open-source management system used for the tracking, analysis, visualization, and reporting of health data. Used as a Health Management Information System (HMIS) in over 65 countries around the world since its release in 2008, the DHIS2 is growing in population and adoption, and expanding into other development sectors like education and WASH. Continuously worked on by a team at the University of Oslo, the DHIS2 is an aggregate data visualization and reporting platform accessible to users over the web. Additionally, a Tracker component for individual data collection integrates with the larger aggregate reporting platform and a mobile Android application.
Why did we go to DHIS2 Symposium?
Given the high use rate of DHIS2 by Dharma Platform’s customers and associations for aggregate reporting, we wanted greater insight into how DHIS2’s capabilities are successfully being leveraged by organizations focused on enabling digital transformation in the development aid and public health sectors. Given the need for reporting and analysis of high-level trends in global health, DHIS2 has been a logical and popular choice for many organizations with operations at the state or global level. Dharma Platform has plans to build an integration into DHIS2 given the number of client teams using our platform for individual-level data collection who are interested in incorporating their research into ongoing and/or new operations for aggregate-level recording and analysis.
What happened while we were there?
Two days of talks focused on exploring how NGOs and governments formed relationships to support information systems and expand access and use. The conference provided a forum to learn about various approaches towards facilitating data exchange, what lessons can be learned from national implementations of DHIS2 in countries that are aiming for data harmonization, and the power of integration, interoperability, and data exchange to facilitate improved data use. Attendees were briefed on how the Tracker and mobile applications of DHIS2 are improving data collection and what upcoming features, including Android capabilities, are expected. It provided a thoughtful community in which to reflect on past trends and ruminate on future ones in digital health and the implications for the DHIS2 community.
What did we learn?
- Choosing an open-source approach versus a custom built “from scratch” solution is a common struggle that organizations find themselves faced with when determining the best technological approach for their health data collection and reporting needs. Often the line is drawn between a solution like DHIS2 (open-source) and a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model like Dharma Platform.
- The standardization of medical data ontologies is a growing trend in the development aid and public health space, as it facilitates integrations across health data systems by efficiently storing general and specialized medical terminologies and patient-related knowledge. Many teams are working to generate information “banks”, such as project libraries and medical service groupings, that help teams mobilize projects more efficiently, combine data from disparate sources to standardize research, and streamline interoperability across servers.
- There is a disconnect present between HQ, high-level data managers, and data collectors and users. When hyper-local decision-makers are not engaged, the quality of data and program stability suffers, negatively impacting end strategy goals. Frequent on-site Q&A assessments, check-ins with local stakeholders, and mentorship programs are ways to implement increased data ownership so that those building team-supporting techs, meet the actual teams on the ground, “where they are.”