You Say You Want a Data Revolution!

November 18, 2010

A couple of days ago, I posted a blog on the first ever Global Symposium on Health Systems Research, and raised the question: “Will Research Make Health System Strengthening Sexier?”   I'm not in Montreux, but I am following some of the sessions from Washington D.C., thanks to Twitter, Blogs, Webcasts!  I've seen multiple re-tweets of my post and a few references to the blog post in other blog posts.  The comment that I'd like to share here is from Karen Grepin, who builds on the challenge I raise about health system performance and its links to health outcomes.  She says:

“What struck me after attending these two, relatively distinct discussions, is just how difficult it is conduct good and meaningful health systems research - the focus of this conference - when the outcomes that most people would agree that health systems should target - reductions in mortality and morbidity, improvements in financial risk protection, and improvements in patient satisfaction - are so imperfectly and so incompletely measured - if they are even measured at all.”
Yes, we desperately need data to measure health outcomes more accurately and reliably. I would add that we also need systematically collected data to be able to define and measure health system performance.  Karen ends her post with a question that motivated me to write this post:
“Nandini Oomman recently asked in a blog post on the Center for Global Development's Global Health Policy blog about whether research can make health system strengthening sexier, but I am left wondering if health system research itself will ever be sexy enough for the needed investments in data to be made?”
In my view, health system research can be sexy, if we have data!  I know that’s a bit of a cyclical argument, but I think it’s time for a Data Revolution campaign. Don’t get me wrong.  We don’t necessarily need MORE data (I’m sure we could cut out a lot of useless data that are collected and never used in countries or by donors), but better and relevant (as in most useful) data.  What will incentivize global health donors to assist in this data revolution?  Perhaps the sobering reminder that dollars spent in the scale up of health service delivery towards universal health coverage, without the right data to measure health system performance and health outcomes, are dollars not well spent.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.