April 13, 2024

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Knowledge management is key to public health planning, new study shows

3 min read

In the evolving landscape of public health, having access to the right information at the right time can be critical. A new study by the WHO Regional Office for Europe, as well as researchers from Lebanon and Canada, found that knowledge-management tools can help identify health problems, inform health planning and resource allocation, increase the use of evidence by policy-makers, and stimulate discussion. 

Knowledge management refers to programmes or systems that organizations use to create, capture, store, organize and share knowledge and information effectively. These can include evidence networks, surveillance tools, observatories, data platforms and registries.  

For example, national or regional cancer registries have been shown to inform decisions about reimbursement, care access and delivery, as well as to support planning and evaluation of health services. Data platforms can support policy- and decision-making on drug regulation, obesity, tobacco, nutrition and emergency response. 

The study, “Knowledge management tools and mechanisms for evidence-informed decision-making in the WHO European Region: a scoping review” maps knowledge-management mechanisms used for evidence-informed decision-making in health care and health policy, as well as identifying knowledge gaps. 

Tyrone Reden Sy, Technical Officer of Performance and Knowledge Management at WHO/Europe and the coordinating author of the study, said, “Knowledge management is an often-overlooked area of work in health care, and this publication is the first step to revive it. The next step is developing a knowledge-management strategy for the WHO European Region to support Member States based on our findings.” 

The power of knowledge-sharing 

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of knowledge management, encouraging health professionals, policy-makers and citizens to rely on the best available research evidence and data. Surveillance systems were instrumental in guiding public health policies to minimize disease transmission. 

The study recommends investing in best knowledge-management practices and maintaining them in the long term, as well as supporting capacity-building activities and research to strengthen knowledge management, particularly in eastern Europe and central Asia. Ensuring support from political leaders and creating a culture that values good information-sharing is crucial for knowledge-management tools to be effective. 

Evidence networks promoting partnerships between key stakeholders and experts across Europe were also found to support decision-makers tackling key public health issues. Policy dialogues can boost the use of research evidence, raise awareness, and encourage discussions across different sectors. 

“Health care is a knowledge-driven industry, where new studies, research and drug developments happen every day,” said Dr David Novillo Ortiz, Unit Head and Regional Adviser for Data and Digital Health at WHO/Europe. “Yet, many organizations don’t have a system for storing and sharing all this information. A secure knowledge-management platform can fill that gap, but it needs high-quality and complete data. That’s why we are supporting countries in establishing robust health information systems and standardized data practices.” 

The data should represent all sections of the population, including refugees, migrants and other marginalized or underserved population groups, Dr Novillo Ortiz added. 

WHO support 

Effective knowledge management is central to achieving the health-related Sustainable Development Goals. In 2005, WHO developed a Global Knowledge Management Strategy, which focuses on policy-makers, WHO programmes and health professionals. The objectives of the strategy are threefold: strengthening country health systems, establishing the principles and practice of knowledge management as a public health science, and enabling WHO to become a better learning and knowledge-sharing organization. The importance of knowledge generation, translation and dissemination was emphasized in the WHO Thirteenth General Programme of Work covering the period 2019–2025. 

The WHO European Programme of Work, 2020–2025 emphasizes the critical need for countries to strengthen their health data and information systems to ensure that decisions are data driven and facilitate public health monitoring. 

A review of WHO/Europe’s evidence generation and dissemination for policy suggested enhancing monitoring and evaluation functions within the Organization. This would help to maximize opportunities to produce and share evidence, as well as assessing the results of advice provided to Member States. 

The Regional digital health action plan for the WHO European Region 2023–2030 prioritizes building networks and promoting dialogue and knowledge exchange to facilitate interaction between partners, stakeholders and the wider public in order to steer the agenda for innovation in digital health.



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