Driving a data response to pandemic in Yogyakarta

Studies from the first stages of the pandemic offer insights regarding health data connectivity.

Increased health service digitalisation is likely to be one of the positive legacies of COVID-19 for Indonesia.

A recent report prepared by researchers from the Partnership for Australia-Indonesia Research examined the first six to eight months of the pandemic in terms of health data connectivity, focusing on the city of Yogyakarta.

The report noted the value of reliable data in dealing with the coronavirus was evident when it came to forming policy and managing community wellbeing, but was a challenge for a population as large as Indonesia’s.

The research will feature in a key discussion panel with researchers A/Prof Sherah Kurnia and Dr Safirotu Khoir on 30 November – day 1 of the PAIR Digital Summit for 2021.

It is important for putting forward evidence-based solutions that help strengthen health systems, which would assist Indonesia in being more able to deal with emergencies.

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The study context was in Yogyakarta with a decentralised system. Three reasons were found why COVID-19 data in Indonesia are unreliable; fragmented application systems, data entry duplication and lack of human resources for data handling.

Research co-lead, Dr Safirotu Khoir from the Universitas Gadjah Mada, said the challenges of data integration in the first eight months of the pandemic were considerable.

“At that time, the impression of chaos did exist. Data was also confusing, coordination was still complicated, involving complex bureaucracy,” Dr Safirotu said.

“The situation became worse in June-August 2021 when the peak of the second wave happened.”

Data integration challenges

Agreeing on data integration solutions across multiple parties with sometimes differing objectives and priorities can be time consuming.

“So it will take time to agree on specific solutions to address the current data integration issue,” Dr Safirotu said.

A/Prof Sherah Kurnia added some important points.

“Also, each region has developed its own systems so they might be reluctant to change since they have a sense of ownership with their current systems,” she said.

“If APIs are to be developed to integrate all different systems, that will create complex systems to manage.”

The report recommended the adoption of an open health information exchange (OpenHIE), the creation of a national standard, the development of data protection policies and the development of a system for future needs, such as vaccination records.

Anis Fuad, a project member from Universitas Gadjah Mada, said some recommendations were already being implemented.

“Some of our recommendations have already been implemented, although some applications have not been fully integrated,” he said.

“For example, in terms of New All Record (NAR), we can see some improvements as the number of users has increased. Also, the NAR data is now accessible across multiple platforms.”

However, their recommendation of using OpenHIE as the full interoperability model is not yet fully applicable.

“It is understandable, it does take time. But there are good indications,” Mr Anis said. “When we conducted our study in 2020, there was no DTO (Digital Transformation Office).

“With the new cabinet in the Ministry of Health, digitalisation has become one of the pillars of transformation in the Ministry of Health.”

Supporting policies

Further, Dr Safirotu said the project had potential to make a significant difference in data integration in the longer term.

“We understand that it requires strong supporting policies and certain milestones to reach but it definitely takes time,” she said.

While digitalisation is hardly new to the Indonesian health system, the pandemic has driven changes.

“Digitalisation as part of the country’s administration and business processes is not new,” Dr Safirotu continued.

“But government instructions have been shared and incorporated into online environments in every field. The pandemic creates momentum towards serious thinking and execution of digitalisation.”

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Dr Safirotu said the lessons of the research went beyond Indonesia.

“We believe that other nations can learn from our findings to understand challenges in data integrations, particularly nations with decentralisation systems.

“Other nations can see the urgency of having reliable integrated data as it can help nations in making policies and effective solutions in response to the pandemic,” she said.

Research following the report is ongoing.

“There is potential room for improvements based on the current research findings,” Dr Safirotu said.

“We need more and more findings to support the country to deal with the pandemic.”

The topic of health data connectivity will feature in a panel discussion on Tuesday 30 November – day 1 of the PAIR Digital Summit.

A/Prof Sherah Kurnia and Dr Safirotu Khoir will be joined by Jeff Parker, Chairman of the AIBC Health Group, and Petrarca Karetji, Head of Pulse Lab Jakarta.

You can read the full research report here.

Digital Communications Coordinator
The Australia-Indonesia Centre