New Report Identifies Opportunities for Countries to Use Strategic Information to Build a Stronger Health Workforce

health worker

A new report titled Human Resources for Health: Workforce Analytics for Design and Planning Report offers insights for how low- and middle-income countries can use human resources information systems (HRIS) to better design, plan, and manage their health workforces during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report—produced as part of a partnership among IntraHealth International, Vital Wave, and Cooper/Smith—analyzes 20 countries that are experiencing health workforce shortages and highlights the contextual factors that shape their information ecosystems. The authors offer three deep-dive assessments of Burkina Faso, Mozambique, and Uganda to showcase the status of HRIS in different geographic, development, and health system contexts.

While health worker shortages have been a challenge around the world for many years, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic introduces extra urgency to health workforce management. The pandemic, report authors say, illustrates the importance of:

  • Knowing where health workers are so they can be deployed for COVID-19 care and vaccinations
  • Procuring and distributing appropriate personal protective equipment
  • Maintaining other health services without disruption.

The report finds that many countries’ governments lack an accurate sense of the composition, location, and performance of their health workforce. Key assessment findings include:

  1. Data on private-sector and community health workers are frequently unavailable to governments, impeding decision-making and planning.
  2. Human resources for health (HRH) management requires high levels of coordination, as data are found across multiple sources.
  3. In many of the countries analyzed, HRIS design and implementation do not meet current user needs for routine HRH management.
  4. A unique identifier, such as an employee identification number, is key to data quality and interoperability.
  5. In many of the countries analyzed, performance management has not been prioritized and is not aligned with health system goals and objectives.
  6. Interoperability with payroll is a high-value goal but hard to achieve while interoperability with other information systems is easier and more efficient.
  7. Across the public sector, health is perceived to be a leader in HRIS and is a model for other government sectors such as ministries of education.

The report outlines various pathways to success, with recommendations that build upon existing efforts at the global and country levels to strengthen human resources information systems and to guide further investments for stronger health systems.

Some key recommendations include:

  • Support the creation of robust governance structures (e.g., a steering committee) to ensure HRH investments are aligned across disease- or issue-specific health programs
  • Improve the government’s tracking and management of community health workers
  • Show the value of sharing private-sector health workforce data
  • Integrate information technology and data skills for HRH into management and leadership trainings for subnational actors
  • Build facility and health worker registries and strive for interoperability between key HRH data sources
  • Incentivize data reporting at the facility level
  • Track attendance and link data to health worker performance and payments.

“This report is an important reference for ministries of health around the world who are facing health worker shortages and seeking to better address using HRIS,” says Andrew Brown, senior director of health workforce development at IntraHealth. “But it will also help all of us understand how we can work with governments, institutions, and nonprofits to better support the health workforce, as we are facing a shortage of almost 18 million health workers around the world.”