Overcoming “eBabel” with Digital ID

I’m here at a USAID-sponsored event in Tanzania as part of a new fellowship program with the World Bank. The week-long conference brings together “country teams” from the continent to discuss the status of mobile health projects.

There are translation gadgets on the table, so I’m not lost! The languages range from French, Portuguese, Swahili and English. Ahhh…true semantic interoperability in a box!

The Ministries of Health panel shifts discussion toward a key challenge – interoperability of health data. Unfortunately, the discourse doesn’t go much deeper than recognizing the problem. Steering committees have been set up in Rwanda, where mobile health projects must register and explain their technology and how it communicates with other systems. Ethiopia indicates it is doing the same. Other countries nod in agreement.

I’m thinking the new Mobile Interoperability Showcase at the upcoming mHealth Summit, in Washington, DC on Dec. 3-5, offers a way to cut through the talk…forcing companies to demonstrate true interoperability. In fact, four sessions at this conference feature presenters from this area of the world.

Scale-Up: Creating an Enabling Environment 

Monday, Dec. 3 – 2:45 – 4 p.m.

Vicky Hausman, Partner, Dalberg Global Development Advisors
Sarah Emerson, Country Manager, mHealth Tanzania Partnership
Garrett Mehl, Scientist, WHO
Eddie Mukooyo
Hajo van Beijma, Co-Founder, Partnerships Director, Text to Change

Money Matters:  Sustainable Funding Models for mHealth 

Tuesday, December 4 – 11: a.m. – 12:15 p.m.

Haitham El-noush, Manager, NORAD
Esther Ogara, Head of eHealth, Ministry of Health, Kenya
Tiantian Li, Founder, DXY.com
Chris Wasden, Managing Director, PwC
Eric Woods, Founder & CEO, Switchboard

Technology Standards and Interoperability for Implementers 

Tuesday, Dec. 4 – 11 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.

Kate Wilson, Senior Program Officer PATH
Richard Gakuba, Director of eHealth, Ministry of Health, Rwanda
Andrew Kanter, Assistant Professor, Columbia University
Rowena Luk, Senior Engineer, Dimagi
Chris Seebregts, Executive Director and Co-Founder, Jembi Health Systems

Building Sustainable Public-Private Partnerships:  Implementing Partners’ Perspectives                                                                                                                        

Wednesday, Dec. 5 – 7:30 – 8:45 a.m.

Moderator: Linda McGehee – CDC Foundation
Esther Ogara – Ministry of Health, Kenya
James Kwach Ojwang – CDC Kenya
Cathy Mwangi – mHealth Kenya, CDC Foundation
Josibert Joseph Rubona – Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Tanzania
Sarah Emerson – mHealth Tanzania, CDC Foundation

What an incredible value to the global community!

My mind now drifts back to the room, where we – here in 2012 – are building a technical “tower of babel” – “eBabel,” if you will. We aren’t too far from the plains of Shinar, where the proverbial tower stood.

Ironically, the local newspaper, called The Citizen, offers this headline:  “Budget Crisis Puts National ID Project In Limbo.” In 2014, all Tanzanians must have identification cards “to enable banks to trace loan defaulters and boost national security.”

I automatically make a connection. As we implement interoperability across US health IT systems, we are facing a critical path issue – implementing patient identity and integrity solutions.

The program lead for Tanzania indicates that reaching out to the private sector is required for sustainability of mobile health projects. Finding synergy in agendas is vital. Telecom firms want people to rely on mobile phones. Mobile health drives usage. That’s synergy; so, why not do the same thing with the Tanzanian government around this national ID project?

A good part of the budget issue is a need to hire foot warriors to get out into the community to sign up folks. Could community health centers that aggressively sign up individuals – for mobile health services for early intervention of AIDS, maternal health and other areas – help the government to issue digital identities? This would not only advance the national ID project, but at the same time, address an important component for interoperability, ultimately, supporting quality healthcare and patient safety.

I’m going to ask this congenial gathering of African countries about this approach to digital identities. Let me hear your thoughts!

About John Casillas

John Casillas is Senior Vice President, HIMSS Financial-Centered Systems and HIMSS Medical Banking Project
This entry was posted in Health IT News and Developments, HIMSS Events and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Overcoming “eBabel” with Digital ID

  1. eddodds says:

    Other synergies could be achieved with other users of the fiber optic backbone being built out by the telcos which enable both wireless and high speed broadband. Such include: 1) NRENs (national research and educational networks — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_research_and_education_network), the very folks likely to be doing the big data research which is now enabled by the adoption of national ids (even though the research would be done on de-identified records, IDs in general tend to “force” the adoption of standardized {often international, sometimes “open”} data formats where none or only proprietary {thus, generally — less interoperable} existed before); 2) entrepreneurs — innovation hubs, entrepreneurial accelerators and incubators, the networking of same, are|is exploding across Africa (please see vc4Africa.biz as one example initiative). The business investment community is finally aware of the growth of mobile app digitized healthcare as a global phenomenon (as John writes here and has been predicting for a very long time).

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