A long-time member of GHDonline, Usman Raza has been reading and responding to discussions in the Health IT community for over three years. When he first joined, he was developing an electronic medical record (EMR) for a non-profit hospital in Pakistan.
Usman is program officer at the National AIDS Control Programme in Pakistan, the principal recipient of the Global Fund. He looks after grant implementation across the country, focusing in part on community and home-based care for HIV patients and their families. He also leads the development of an online Information Systems project. He came to the programme by way of Harvard School of Public Health where he completed his masters in Health Policy and Management with a Fullbright scholarship.
Working with colleagues on the EMR, they initially chose to use a “Year-Month-Day-Serial#” format for generating medical record numbers (MRN) for every patient visiting the hospital. But they wondered: Was this standard practice? What were the advantages and disadvantages? In less than a week, he received very valuable responses to these questions from colleagues in the community, including counsel from Andrew Kanter, the director of Health Information Systems/Medical Informatics for the Millennium Villages Project at the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He also connected with “neighbor” Sarah Bird, an IT professional with Interactive Research & Development in Karachi. Needless to say, Usman was pleased with this and was able to incorporate that feedback into his project.
There are currently ten functioning centers providing HIV/AIDS care in Pakistan, and twenty more are scheduled to open in the coming years. Usman cites the knowledge he has gained through GHDonline and other online sources as having assisted him in developing a system to track activity across these sites. And as he continues to develop Health IT programs, he gives back to the GHDonline community by sharing information from his own experience in discussions about unique patient identifiers, encouraging physicians to enter patient data during visits, and more.
Usman sees one of the greatest challenges facing Health IT in Pakistan as “the absence of this realization that information systems form the backbone of any good policy and planning mechanism,” which ultimately contributes to improved outcomes. A lack of national and regional Health IT policy has led to “a plethora of fragmented health information tools and systems” which have little hope of long term sustainability or interoperability, he worries.
“These are exactly the same issues that USA has been trying to cope with, although Pakistan is at a much earlier stage in the stream. In my current work, I am leading the development of an online management information system which is based on standard tools that are already being used at the service delivery points. This is an example of utilizing already functioning systems and not trying to invent new ones unnecessarily.”
During the 2010 floods in Pakistan, Usman reached out to the Health IT community, asking for web-based resources to help coordinate his organization’s relief efforts, and was able to find local resources and connect with experts on the ground. He ended up working with some to develop a mapping website that tracked and shared his organization’s efforts during the disaster.
Lately, Raza has been most interested in GHDonline’s Expert Panels. “They provide me with valuable opinions from experts, in a time-limited format that allows a focused but in-depth conversation” he said. “I follow them regularly, and would say they have definitely added to my knowledge.”