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Insights from Serbia: eHealth Digitization

Watch Webinar

On January 27, the USAID Country Health Information Systems and Data Use (CHISU) Project hosted the latest webinar in its technical leadership series titled, “Insights from Serbia: Progressing towards eHealth digitization.” The panel included Dejan Kovacevic, digital health adviser to the Office of the Prime Minister of Serbia; Biserka Komlen, director of business and process and project management at MediGroup; Jelena Bojovic, policy director at National Alliance for Local Economic Development; Milan Kovacevic, JSI country lead for CHISU Serbia; and the director of CHISU, Steve Ollis, moderated the panel. The group discussed progress on developing the eHealth strategy 2022-2026 and goals for the future of health digitization in Serbia. Dejan identified the following five pillars of Serbia’s eHealth Strategy:

  • Establishment of a unified model of digitalization management in the health system
  • Establishing secured and integrated information and communication infrastructure and electronic services to provide better and more efficient health care.  
  • Enabling the use of data in the health system for research and development and efficient decision-making
  • Planning and development of human resources, knowledge and competencies for successful and sustainable digitalization in the service of health and health care  
  • ectronic services in health care Enabling citizens to use el

Jelena noted that the COVID-19 pandemic advanced digital initiatives in Serbia by creating an urgent need for high-quality data and digital health solutions. “For Serbia, COVID was also very successful in boosting digitalization in health… the necessity to coordinate among [community health centers], to deliver data to them, to deliver vaccines to them, organize for the patients and for the citizens… we all needed to act [quickly] in 2020 and 2021 to do something about it.” The pandemic also revealed gaps in records and data that could be filled through digitization. With CHISU’s guidance, Serbia convened a team of public health stakeholders including public, private, and political leaders. Together they identified several action items that will improve data quality and accessibility, including introducing user-friendly design, unifying digital patient records, cataloging medical supplies and resources, and improving digital communication with health care providers. 

The digital health strategy that emerged integrates the needs of public and private healthcare organizations. Biserka emphasized the importance of private sector involvement in creating this strategy, stating, “We consider it very important that we are engaging in this process of creating this program of digitalization in health from the real beginning… we support and express gratitude that the cabinet of the prime minister… recognizes that without the involvement of the private sector we cannot seriously approach digitalization in healthcare in its whole.”

The team employed a hands-on approach, encouraging members to provide direct feedback and discuss challenges and concerns. During 2021, the eHealth Steering Committee held three in-person workshops for stakeholders in which they used the Health Information Systems Stages of Continuous Improvement (SOCI) tool to identify the current state of the ecosystem and set targets for the future.   Milan explained how CHISU is incorporating data use in this process by “building a robust understanding of the data needs at different levels of the health system to advance data-driven decision making.” Milan also highlighted the importance of gender in making digital health initiatives more inclusive, noting that the SOCI tool includes information on gender in its sub-domains. Gender and equity were key considerations during the development of the strategy and action plan, to ensure that patient-centered care could be available to the entire population.

Each panelist highlighted the importance of involving stakeholders in designing these digital initiatives to ensure ownership and commitment. Dejan explained, “It’s not just a question of gathering stakeholders, but getting really direct, open feedback and a respectful approach from both sides. In essence, it is necessary to get the stakeholders ownership and buy-in in the whole process… stakeholders really need to feel this is about their objectives, about their goals… that their voice is heard.” Another crucial aspect of success was political support: the Prime Minister’s Office led the push for developing these digital initiatives and identifying key goals and outcomes for the future of eHealth in Serbia. Effective digitization requires support from all sides, including both the public and private sector. Serbia’s achievements demonstrate the importance of collaboration and of stakeholder engagement in the process of digitizing health information systems.

View the recorded webinar here: https://youtu.be/bEDcS_GNfa0

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