One of the main responsibilities of the Syrian Ministry of Health as outlined in its published list of goals and responsibilities is to develop a health information system as a main tool to gather data, analyse it and utilize it in the decision making process.
The future of Syria carries many challenges and tracks that the transitional and post-transitional governments will need to effectively tackle.
Health care information system can be defined as the process by which information about the status of the health care system and quality is timely and reliably collected from all hospitals and medical facilities, analysed and provided to policy makers to pass new policies and regulations accordingly.
The process of health care reform in Syria theoretically began in 2000 and among its objectives was to develop a reliable Health Information System including a decision support service. To achieve this goal the Syrian government has taken some local or domestic initiatives in addition to other initiatives where it sought international assistance.
One of the Local initiatives was a project of administration medical system which started in 2002 and began at Zeid Shreity Hospital, the public hospital with 350 beds in Swaida in the South of the country. The project was to design a computer system to control patients’ medical records and it was completely designed and programed by the computer department of the hospital. Since then, however, very little is known about the outcome of this implementation but what is known is that since then this program was not extended for implementation at other health care institutions.
Internationally significant European Commission activities have been implemented under the MEDA Program in the health sectors providing technical assistance and training notably regarding: legislative, regulatory and financial frameworks. (www.delsyr.cec.eu.int). The World Health Organization (WHO) has been active in Syria since the early 50’s and WHO Representatives have worked closely with national authorities for the formulation, adoption and implementation of health policies through the Joint Program Review Mission. In this cooperation framework a five year work plan has been developed. The HMN (Health Matrix Network) program is one of these WHO sponsored partnership programs that is specifically designed to help developing countries, such as Syria, structure a national health information system. Yet, despite all these national initiatives and international programs and partnerships and after all these years we still do not have a health information system in Syria today.
The effort and the stated intentions have failed to achieve the objective of creating a national reliable health information system. Significant challenges were encountered which had resulted in this failure.
The Ministry of Health in a prior publication did admit to some of these challenges which precluded the formation of such system such as financing, electronic legislations, human obstacles and spatial obstacles.
Additional obstacles might include the lack of managerial and administrative skills as well as the lack of mandatory reporting by health care institutions and individual physicians alike. The lack of qualified administrative expertise in Syria was very apparent during one international collaboration program, the WHO sponsored HMN program where it was concluded that decision-makers have either no idea about all details of the real situation of the health information system or they themselves had concerns with information reliability.
In conclusion, there is a critical need for health information system in Syria; a system that is not only limited in its application to patient data but also able to timely collect data about the status of health care, analyse it, and provide it to policy makers for strategic planning of health care in the country.