Skip to content

Harnessing Data for Health: A Call to Action

    gstudioimagen1 on Freepik
    gstudioimagen1 on Freepik

    On August 8th 2023, doctors from the University of the Philippines published a call to action for the explicit inclusion of open health data into the strategic plans of global and national actors.

    The term “open health data” refers to health data that is accessible to all without limitations to its reuse. Unrestricted, free-of-charge availability enables the usage of large volumes of health data for research and analytics. This can improve the accuracy of the analytical insights used to inform health policy and healthcare delivery.

    As highlighted by Dr. Alberto and her colleagues, however, the benefits of open data come with several challenges. A major concern is the risk of re-identification, where anonymous data is matched with auxiliary information (ex. another data source) to identify who the data belongs to. While the risk of re-identification through publicly available health data is actually quite low, implementing open health data will still introduce privacy risks. Another challenge is navigating the ethics around the use of publicly-provided health data by commercial organizations for private profit.

    Despite these drawbacks, countries such as Germany and Canada have increased health data availability while balancing innovation with control. Alberto et al. attribute this success to formal, open data requirements which were incorporated into national strategies, laws, and regulations. With this in mind, the integration of open data requirements into a global strategy can substantially boost the open health data movement.

    The digitalization of health data facilitates the practicality of open health data (
    The digitalization of health data facilitates the practicality of open health data (

    For this reason, Alberto et al. are calling for global organizations (ex. the United Nations and World Health Organization) to be involved in the development and endorsement of a global strategy for open health data.

    Alberto et al. propose that there be four main areas to serve as enablers of open health data. Therefore, the following areas should be accounted for in national and global open health data strategies:

    1. Governance. A clear governance framework can help coordinate stakeholders and technology components involved in open health data initiatives. Having a governance framework will also ensure continuity in decision-making while promoting transparency.
    2. Architecture. Strategies for open health data should be embedded and communicated through a shared architecture.
    3. People and program management. People and programs involved in open health data initiatives need to be managed effectively, preferably by a pool of certified and experienced project managers.
    4. Standards and interoperability. Information systems storing the health data need to be able to exchange data seamlessly and securely. Standards for health information systems may help with this.

    Currently, a decades-long commitment to healthcare innovation and infrastructure improvement has led to the ASEAN region being ranked highly in healthcare competitiveness. The development of national open data strategies for ASEAN countries or the bloc’s participation in a global strategy may help maintain this competitive edge while bettering the health of ASEAN residents.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *