Seeding Data Use Among Hospital Staff
Evangelical Lutheran Church Hospitals are Strengthening their Capacity for Data-Driven Decision-Making
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) strives to improve the health and well-being of Tanzanians. ELCT’s 24 hospitals cover 12 districts and 10 regions in Tanzania. ELCT also owns 143 health facilities, including health centers and dispensaries across the country, which together provide the health services for 15% of the national population.
ELCT hospitals report data to headquarters on a monthly and quarterly basis in order to monitor and quantify the level of service that each hospital is able to provide; to assess funding and resource needs; and to identify opportunities for improvement.
The staff responsible for compiling data into actionable information had only the basic data literacy needed to generate simple narrative reports. Additional data skills were needed in order to be able to critically assess and analyze the value of the data that being collected and to translate that data into compelling, actionable products for decision-makers. Moreover, incomplete reports were commonplace because the individuals responsible for reporting the data were often unaware of its importance, its potential for decision-making and/or ultimate impact on human lives (patients). As a result, ELCT’s hospital data contained significant gaps, a problem that hindered its use for decision-making.
Key ELCT staff enhanced their data skills by attending a training offered by the Tanzania Data Lab (dLab) and as a result were able to identify areas of potential improvement in ELCT’s data collection and reporting strategy. These include the addition of several key variables during data collection to improve the quality of data and potential analyses – and the use of visualizations to uncover long-term trends and support important ELCT decisions.
After key staff attended training at the dLab, ELCT developed a new data strategy and it recently added two variables – age and payment method – to its reporting tool. By collecting data on a patient’s method of payment, ELCT will be able to track which services are covered through insurance and to what areas the organization needs to allocate additional funding. ELCT may then begin to mobilize additional services and funding. Understanding the demographic profile of its patients, on the other hand, helps ELCT understand where additional specialized resources (e.g., pediatric care) are needed. ELCT plans to use the data in to make better budget decisions and in support of its health advocacy campaigns.
Although the collection of additional variables improves the understanding of how ELCT’s services are being used, the picture it paints is only as good as the data that are reported. By promoting awareness of the value of data across ELCT’s 24 hospitals and its ultimate connection to patients’ lives, the organization is now improving its data collection practices among the hospital-level staff.
Finally, the training in data visualization offered by the dLab has enabled a more in-depth analysis of historical service data showing long term changes in service provision. In addition to the usual monthly and quarterly reports, ELCT has since been able to analyze and visualize family planning data to show the relative popularity of pills, injections, and other contraceptive methods among youth in recent years. By looking at these and other trends, ELCT is able to make more informed decisions on how to allocate its resources.
How can one person seed change in an organization?
Anna Mahenge is a nurse, social worker, and mother of two. Although she has been working with data for ten years, she needed training in data management and analysis. Through training at the dLab, Anna learned how to clean, combine, and visualize data, skills that have helped her understand trends in monthly data from 24 ELCT hospitals, assess performance and gaps, and make funding recommendations. By taking this knowledge back to her organization, Anna was able to catalyze the changes reported here. She was recently promoted to project manager.
Changes in ELCT’s data strategy are expected to result in better data-driven decisions and resource allocation. By improving data awareness, building staff data skills, and increasing the amount of relevant data collected, ELCT will improve not only the quantity but also the quality of the data that are used to inform their program. An improved data use strategy will also be a powerful tool for advocacy among both traditional and new partners.
The Tanzania Data Lab (dLab) is a national data hub promoting data innovations, literacy, data use and multi-stakeholder data collaborations. They strive to build capacity in data analysis and visualization and offered their expertise to this project. More information at www.dlab.or.tz and @dLabTz.