The role of information technology in strengthening human resources for health: The case of the Pacific Open Learning Health Network
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Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to discuss innovative ways of addressing Human Resources for Health (HRH) shortage in the Pacific, supported by a review of the literature and the Pacific Open Learning Health Net (POLHN), a program created in response to the Pacific’s HRH concern. Design/Methodology/Approach: A systematic search was conducted of English literature between 1990 and 2012. A number of key words, singly and/or in combination, were used to search for articles on ProQuest and PubMed. Original articles were identified and reference lists scrutinised to obtain additional literature. Due to the paucity of information, only narrative review was conducted and themes emerging from the literature identified and critically reviewed. Findings: There is a worldwide HRH shortage and a need to improve the skills of the health workforce to respond to changing population health needs. Continuing education (CE) through use of information technology (IT) is a means to strengthen HRH. POLHN is one example of an initiative to improve health worker skills and motivation. Technological change is increasingly common place in society. To make sense of these changes, practitioners can look for common themes in successful technological innovations of interactivity; information access, creation, or sharing; communication; and simplicity. To ensure effective governance CE and IT are used to strengthen HRH, there is a need to incorporate qualitative as well as quantitative measures, to prioritise the creation of quality, relevant, and appropriate resources, and to facilitate access and active participation by health workers. Originality/values: The paper highlights the complexity of HRH shortage as a global problem, which demands multiple initiatives to respond to the shortage in the pursuit of skilled, equitable and just delivery of health services and distribution of health service providers. One initiative that has worked elsewhere is professional development of health professionals through the provision of continuing education (CE) using information technology (IT). Online learning offers a pathway to address HRH shortage and overcomes challenges posed by distance, limited infrastructure, and in small remote communities. POLHN contributes to improved skills and knowledge among health professionals who can, as a result, deliver better health services in a region as geographically dispersed and isolated as the Pacific.