Why do we need stronger HR information systems for health workers?

The need for better information on health workers is critical to addressing not just the oft-challenged health worker crisis, but to deal with any and all health issues, on every level from local communities to the entire world.

There are many efforts undertaken around the world to improve the availability, analysis and use of health worker information. Governments, health service delivery organizations, parastatal registration and licensure professional councils, training organizations, donors and individuals are all working to develop a better understanding of essential questions, including (but certainly not limited to):

  • Where are our health workers?
  • What are they trained in?
  • What challenges do they face?
  • How does their presence (and absence!) match up with the need?
  • How many are joining the workforce each year?
  • How many are leaving?
  • How can we best support them to do the essential work they do?

A health worker is any person who delivers, supports, or promotes better health. This broadest possible definition includes both professional and volunteer health workers from the national policy-maker through the community health worker, in every sector in every place. Without encompassing everyone, we can't develop a full picture of who is available and whom is needed to improve the health and well-being of our communities and our world.

This doesn't mean we put everyone into one huge clump without distinction; by carefully defining all of the different types of health workers we can help support a balance of care that will get the right worker with the right skills to the right place at the right time.

As systems strengtheners and technologists, we often bring good ideas of new tools, technologies and skills to the health systems we work with. If we were to take away every new tool, technique, technology and drug, health care would still continue, in whatever way it could, as long as someone is there to care.

Take away the health worker, however, and it doesn't matter whether you have the most sophisticated, high-tech and high resource health care system in the world. Health care will stop. And it has stopped, in many places around the world where it is most needed. Wherever a ghost worker is taking up the post of a real worker. Wherever planning has been poor due to bad information. Wherever a health worker has given up through lack of tools, training and support.