Using routine health information systems for well-designed health evaluations in low- and middle-income countries

Health Policy Plan. 2016 Feb;31(1):129-35. doi: 10.1093/heapol/czv029. Epub 2015 Apr 16.


Routine health information systems (RHISs) are in place in nearly every country and provide routinely collected full-coverage records on all levels of health system service delivery. However, these rich sources of data are regularly overlooked for evaluating causal effects of health programmes due to concerns regarding completeness, timeliness, representativeness and accuracy. Using Mozambique's national RHIS (Módulo Básico) as an illustrative example, we urge renewed attention to the use of RHIS data for health evaluations. Interventions to improve data quality exist and have been tested in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs). Intrinsic features of RHIS data (numerous repeated observations over extended periods of time, full coverage of health facilities, and numerous real-time indicators of service coverage and utilization) provide for very robust quasi-experimental designs, such as controlled interrupted time-series (cITS), which are not possible with intermittent community sample surveys. In addition, cITS analyses are well suited for continuously evolving development contexts in LMICs by: (1) allowing for measurement and controlling for trends and other patterns before, during and after intervention implementation; (2) facilitating the use of numerous simultaneous control groups and non-equivalent dependent variables at multiple nested levels to increase validity and strength of causal inference; and (3) allowing the integration of continuous 'effective dose received' implementation measures. With expanded use of RHIS data for the evaluation of health programmes, investments in data systems, health worker interest in and utilization of RHIS data, as well as data quality will further increase over time. Because RHIS data are ministry-owned and operated, relying upon these data will contribute to sustainable national capacity over time.

Keywords: Epidemiology; evaluation; health information systems; health policy; health systems research; impact; implementation; methods; research methods; survey methods.

MeSH terms

  • Data Accuracy*
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Developing Countries
  • Health Information Systems*
  • Health Policy
  • Population Surveillance*
  • Poverty*