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2/28/2011
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World Economic Forum Drives Health Data Initiative

The Global Health Data Charter calls for the use of technology to overcome worldwide gaps in health information collection, availability, privacy, and analysis.

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The World Economic Forum has launched the Global Health Data Charter, an initiative to advance global health through the management and collection of data. The charter aims to enable individuals and patients, health professionals, and policymakers to make more informed decisions through secure access to comprehensive health data.

Officials at the World Economic Forum in Geneva said at the charter's unveiling last week that accurate health data is not available across health systems operating in developed and developing countries, and that gaps in data can be overcome through the use of technology, which will be a main driver in the collection, analysis, and application of health information.

In an interview with InformationWeek, Olivier Raynaud, head of global health and healthcare industries at the World Economic Forum, said the charter is a foundation document that can be used by national and individual organizations and clinicians. Healthcare stakeholders, such as health research organizations, academia, providers, insurers, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), can play a role in and benefit from the capture, storage, sharing, and use of health data.

"Even though it is 2011, most health data is still captured with pen and paper. The cost of digital support for information is getting closer to zero and this immediately makes information easier to store, retrieve, share, and aggregate," Raynaud said. "There are large-scale programs taking place in the most challenging areas (such as the monitoring of pregnancies by BRAC, a large NGO in Bangladesh, where midwifes were equipped with PDAs), which have shown that it is perfectly feasible and generates immediate and tangible results.

He also said many nations are at a tipping point as they transition from paper-based systems to capturing health data electronically, and the hope is that the charter will help foster and enable a data-based, digital health era that will address global disparities in health.

"Disadvantaged populations will gain more from improved health data management; similar to what has been seen with mobile communication, digital health information has the potential to enable a dramatic change in the pace of progress towards universal coverage and access to health," Raynaud said.

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