Visiting Fellow, University of Winchester and Programme Lead, Partnerships in Health Information (Phi), UK
The failure to apply existing knowledge to improve peoples’ health is often referred to as the ‘knowledge gap’ or ‘know–do gap’. The know–do gap is not only a consequence of a lack of understanding about what to do or even a simple lack of resources, but also a consequence of a lack of capacity to apply existing knowledge. Thus, there is a need for appropriate knowledge in formulating health policies and strategies and for the efficient performance of the health system. People need access to relevant knowledge on health risks, how to avoid them, and how to seek care when they fall sick.
Effective management of health-related knowledge means getting the right knowledge to the right people, at the right level and at the right time. Those involved include policy-makers, practitioners, health system managers, researchers, knowledge intermediaries like librarians, editors and journalists, and the general public. This entails key transformations in 1) knowledge capacity, 2) the management system, 3) innovation, and 4) the use of information and communications technology as a critical enabler in all fields. Knowledge for health constantly needs to be reviewed and renewed, and consequently the knowledge management effort in countries should be continuous. Where it has been superseded, old knowledge should be replaced by new knowledge applied in a form that is appropriate to the local situation. The impact of knowledge must be felt throughout the ‘knowledge value chain’.
Using evidence can help improve health, be it through promoting better health practices, introducing innovative technologies, or applying evidence in health policy formulation. This is achieved through the establishment of an effective cycle of data gathering, sharing, analysis, understanding, reporting, and application in decision making – the process whereby data are transformed into information and knowledge for action. The basic ingredients of good KM are ‘people, processes and technology’. This simply means that change needs to be introduced into the skill set and knowledge base of people (leadership, managers and staff), the way that people conduct health-related activities, and the technology platforms that will be used for building the knowledge base, and the translation of knowledge into policy, decision and action.