Rational Technology for December 11, 2005. This is the version that's going to see print in the Metro Post, but I've also posted it in PLUG for corrections and additions. Updated version, if it so warrants, to follow.
This year, the Philippine open source community had good reason to take more than a passing interest in the Ten Outstanding Young Men awards. That reason was Dr. Alvin Marcelo of the UP College of Medicine. Dr. Marcelo is a staunch advocate of open source and has led efforts to apply it in medical informatics. A core component of the work for which he was selected for the TOYM award this year was the Community Health Information Tracking System (CHITS).
What is medical informatics and why is it so important for the country? Medical informatics is the application of information technology to health care. At the heart of it, health care is very much an information-driven practice. Health care professionals have to diagnose conditions and administer treatment based on symptoms and case histories. Medical informatics gives practitioners easier access to relevant information so they can be more effective in their work.
In a country where the ratio of doctors and nurses to the population at large is steadily on the decline, medical informatics becomes an essential tool to augment thinly-stretched resources. Nowhere is this more apparent than in community health centers which serves people who need quality health care most but are ironically the least able to afford it.
This is where a program like CHITS comes in. CHITS is the brainchild of Dr. Herman Tolentino, Dr. Cito Maramba, and Dr. Marcelo, along with other doctors at the UP College of Medicine Medical Informatics Unit. The CHITS program fulfills an important role in community health services. CHITS, first rolled out in a pilot program in Pasay City, gives doctors, nurses, midwives and barangay health workers access to data for critical decision-making.
On the level of individual patients, this means quick access to medical records and related information. CHITS stores treatment history, immunization records, consultation appointments, and Philhealth membership for easy organization and retrieval. It also gives an integrated view for their program frontliners, particularly those involved in tuberculosis, vaccination, maternal care, and child care.
On the level of the community, it is even more valuable. CHITS forms part of the stream of information that begins with data collection by midwives and health workers, traverses the provincial and regional health offices, and ends with the Department of Health. It helps with policy development and decision-making processes as to what programs to roll out and what resources to allocate.
Although CHITS is still in its pilot stage in Pasay City, there are still several capabilities that UP College of Medicine plans to add. Future directions include the use of cellphones as data entry and retrieval, integration with geographic information system for mapping, and data mining for identifying trends and policy-making. Most importantly, the UP College of Medicine also plans to establish relationships with the over 1,700 local government units to roll out CHITS nationwide.
CHITS, funded by IDRC/Panasia of Canada, was developed entirely on Linux using open source tools. As an open source success story, CHITS shows that open source is an enabler for projects happening at the community level.