The data that health authorities need from the United States, UK, Canada and Australia for tracking the health and wellbeing of their citizens could be made freely available to the rest of the world, according to a report by a group of leading international health organisations.
The report, released on Tuesday, says the International Health Information Exchange (IHEI), a network of more than 1,400 countries, has long provided a common platform for governments to share information on how to measure, manage and deliver health.
The IHEI provides the data to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for use by federal, state and local governments.
But this data is only part of the picture, says David Siegel, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University and one of the report’s authors.
“The real issue is to give governments the data they need to measure and manage the health of their people, including the wellbeing of citizens, and to make sure the data is made available to others.”
Siegel says governments can make use of the data for public health and health-related programmes.
For example, they could use it to measure the number of hours of sleep each citizen has, the duration of depression and the risk of dying of cancer.
Or they could develop a national health database to track the number and types of diseases being treated.
“If you can find out how many people die every day in the United Kingdom, or how many have died of malaria in the UK, you can use that to make a very good and transparent national health surveillance,” Siegel says.
This is not the first time the US has used data from IHEIs to track its citizens health.
The agency did so in the 1980s and 1990s to identify trends in drug use, but the data was not shared with the public.
The US government has been pressing the US Health and Education Department (HED) to release data on its citizens wellbeing, including how long they sleep and the extent to which they suffer from depression.
A spokesperson for the US HHS told The Independent that the agency is in discussions with IHEs and is working to provide the data.
But the report warns that a lack of openness and transparency in this area could result in governments “making poor and inappropriate decisions that undermine citizens’ wellbeing”.
The US Health Information Technology Management Council (HITMC) said in a statement that it was working to ensure that data collected from IHIs is open, transparent and public.
“We have already made efforts to ensure our datasets are publicly available and transparent,” the spokesperson said.
“HITMCC has a number of initiatives underway to provide information to the public and to facilitate information sharing across the IHE IHI data set.”HITMs chief executive, Mark Ritchie, said the IHAs work to provide “the best possible access to data and services to the healthcare and health sectors, including to healthcare professionals”.
“We are committed to working with stakeholders, including healthcare providers, to ensure the IHI data sets are used by healthcare professionals to best serve patients,” Ritchie said.
In the UK and US, HITMC said the data it collects is used to support public health initiatives and for other health purposes.
“We are working with our data partners to ensure they share relevant and relevant information about their patients to help inform the public about the NHS and the health system.”
In Canada, the data shared by the Canadian Information Technology Strategy and Information Technology Department (CTDI) is made publicly available, but HITMC’s data is shared with public health bodies.
A spokeswoman for the department said HITMC was working with the IHOI and other government bodies to share the data and other information.
“The Canadian Information and Technology Strategy is committed to sharing the information we collect in the health sector to help the public better understand health and safety,” she said.