4. Standards and technologies

Standards and technologies help with curating, accessing, using, sharing and maintaining data assets and they are part of our data infrastructure. Standards for data are reusable agreements that make it easier for people and organisations to publish, access, share and use better quality data. Standards for data can increase interoperability of data; the ease with which systems work together. Interoperability is key to more effective, safe and secure use and sharing of standardised data within and across organisational boundaries.

Within healthcare projects, it is important to understand where standards can help with consistency, being able to repeat processes, making comparisons, or reaching a shared understanding.

Key questions to ask here are:

When collecting or using data, what standards can help ensure consistency? For example:

  • units of measurement that describe how quantities are measured, eg inches, centimetres or centigrade

  • attributes that are properties of people, places, events or things, and give us more information about them, eg a person’s name

  • codes or identifiers that identify people, places, events or things, eg postal codes, passport numbers or vehicle registration numbers.

When sharing data, what standards for data exchange do you need? For example:

  • formats that describe how data is structured for sharing or storage, eg file and data formats like csv, json and xml

  • data types that describe how values related to people, places, events or things are expressed, eg a person’s name is text, their age is a whole number

  • data transfers that define the rules on sharing, exchanging or providing access to information, eg an API to find some data, or complete a transaction.

Are there existing standards for data that you can reuse?

For guidance on standards and how to make data interoperable, see the data interoperability section of the playbook.

Useful resources for standards and technology include:

  • At the WHO Health Data Governance Summit 2021, global health data leaders discussed and identified potential solutions to the challenges of implementing standards, solutions and infrastructure to increase the value of health data as a strategic asset. The website includes pre-reads and recordings of the two-day summit.

  • The Open Standards for Data Handbook helps people and organisations create, develop and adopt open standards for data. It supports a variety of users, including policy leads, domain experts and technologists.

  • The HIMSS Interoperability in Healthcare Guide explores key elements of data interoperability and health information exchange.

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