Good Information for Good Health

Recording data

Training and routine mentoring of records persons in facilities improves the quality and utilization of data in health facilities.

NUMAT improves health care access and quality by teaching good data management

One of the many challenges to providing health care in a post-conflict environment is the lack of data gathered from low-level health facilities. When rural health centers and hospitals do not report the number of people seeking medical services—and for what illnesses—their ability to provide treatment is nearly impossible. The provision of health services must be coordinated at many levels, from the central Ministry of Health (MOH) down to the most rural village clinic. In order to effectively organize and plan for health services, there must be reliable data to guide programs and health care providers.

Denis Nixon is a biostatistician in Dokolo, a newly created district in Northern Uganda with underperforming public service and health sectors. His role within the district government is to compile data from government health facilities and analyze health trends so that resources can be correctly allocated and planning can meet health needs. Denis recognizes the importance of data in ensuring health care for the district. “Health service delivery is actually based on information,” he says. “Without proper information, health services cannot run properly.”

This is where NUMAT stepped in. To increase health workers' data collection capacities, the project provided essential training to district-level staff like Denis on supportive supervision and data validation. In these trainings, the staff learned how to record patient data correctly and make accurate summaries. Afterward, Denis conducted support supervision visits in his district on a quarterly basis, which allowed him to assess the health information needs within the facilities. While there, Denis provided on-the-job training to health facility records staff to improve the quality of data collection in his district.

“What motivates me is the participation of the lower levels of staff within the health facilities,” he says. “Without them, I cannot do my job. They record information about individual patients, which is key to health planning.”

Denis can now also guarantee the accuracy and reliability of data. “I am now able to validate data and track errors or discrepancies,” he says. “I can look at reports and see where a problem exists. From there, I can place a phone call or visit the health facility to correct the error.” Denis feels that staff in his district, rather than viewing data as a bothersome method of reporting, are now learning to see it as a tool to illuminate areas that need improvement. “We are trying to mentor staff and encourage them to own their data and to use it for planning,” he says.

Denis recalls a time when he discovered data that did not trend as it should for child immunizations. Using his new skills, he tracked the error and corrected the quantity of drugs to order. If he had not done so, the district would not have had adequate immunization coverage for the quarter. In addition, using data on the number of mothers visiting prenatal clinics, the district knows how many mosquito nets are needed for pregnant women in a particular geographic area. Similarly, Denis reports that stock-outs of antiretroviral drugs—a common occurrence in most districts—do not occur in Dokolo because data are used to correctly estimate the amount to order. With the enhanced skills of health center staff to collect data, and the process of validation, Denis has increased data collection for the district, enhancing the ability to accurately plan health services.

In addition, NUMAT gave Denis a new computer and database software. This allows him to gather data on district health indicators more easily, without having to search through dozens of binders filled with paper-based data. NUMAT also provided internet access so that he could easily submit monthly reports, which he used to send in via fax from the nearest town more than an hour away. Now in less than a minute, he can email his reports directly to the MOH.

NUMAT’s support has given Denis the time and tools to focus on his job—planning health services for the district. The improved data collection and reporting capacity of health center and district-level staff in Dokolo has significantly improved. Now Denis, and others like him, is leading the way toward ensuring improved health outcomes in Northern Uganda.

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