openIMIS striving for Universal Health Coverage

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The story of openIMIS

openIMIS is an open-source software for the healthcare system. It is created specifically for developing countries. openIMIS manages data by linking together patient, provider and payer. As an open-source tool, it is free for everyone. Everybody can copy it, modify and distribute the source code. openIMIS community of developers and IT specialists will make sure that code provided by others is of a good quality, and add it to the core of the project. The system has a modular structure, which means that it can be adapted to different needs of income countries. With openIMIS, the way to UHC (Universal Health Coverage) is easier than ever!

Universal Health Coverage means that all people and communities can use the health services they need. While also ensuring that the use of these services does not expose the user to financial hardship. In UHC provisions are 3 principles that define the whole program:

  • health service for everyone, and not only for people who can afford to pay for it;
  • the quality of health service, which should be high enough to bring help;
  • protection from financial risk in regard of health services. 

UHC is based on the WHO constitution established in 1948. It cuts across all of the health-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It brings the hope of better health and protection for the world’s poorest. Achieving UHC is one of the targets the nations of the world set together when adopting the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015.

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The idea was born in Switzerland

OpenIMIS is a short version of the Open (Source) Insurance Management Information System. It was designed by Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institue (Swiss TPH). In the frame of cooperation with the Swiss Agency for Development and with SDC’s Health Promotion and System Strengthening Projects (HPSS), IMIS was implemented in Tanzania. This was the first country where IMIS has started working in 2012, as a backbone for the Government of Tanzania’s Community Health Fund (CHF). A few years later the system was adopted to health insurance in Cameroon and for Nepal’s national health insurance scheme. 

One of the goals that openIMIS has, is to adopt health software to every country’s needs. The program has been growing organically, demonstrating how easy it is to adapt many types of health financing systems to UHC. To gradually expand health coverage and financial protection, many low- and middle-income countries are developing adapted health insurance schemes.

IMIS or openIMIS?

At first, IMIS was only a program which was distributed by Swiss TPH in several countries. The program uses mobile phones and local network to optimize enrollments, claims, renewals, reporting and feedback processes. It works since 2012, but from 2016 is the worldwide open-source tool. The purpose of this community is to modularize, maintain and regularly update the software. openIMIS offers free of costs licence for the users. It supports various insurance models in countries like Chad, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Nepal. From the very beginning it has a global target to “Achieve universal health coverage including financial risk protection.”

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Versatility of openIMIS

openIMIS is the product which has the potential to work together with other available IT solutions in the health sector, such as Patient Management Systems or Electronic Health Record Systems. The unity will be reached by using international standards protocols and codes (e.g. Facility Codes, Service Codes, Diagnosis Codes, etc.) to submit claims electronically.

openIMIS product is designed together with the users for sustainable growth of the whole software and community. It aligns with the Principles for Digital Development. openIMIS as the open source code will be continuously improved and reused in new implementations. Moreover, thanks to Lokalise, openIMIS can be translated to every language. That means that everyone can use it, anywhere in the world. 

Financial capacity – a challenge for low- and middle-income countries

The mission of OpenIMIS is to offer proper tools and functionalities for healthcare systems. By using openIMIS software they don’t need to spend money on clerks and system maintenance, because openIMIS has all these features. Countries with low incomes can spend money on treatments and improving the health system in practice. They don’t have to bother with the costs of programs, workforce or licences. It is truly life-changing to many people around the world.

Most developing countries have problems with lack of financial and technical capacity to deal with ICT structures that are necessary to maintain software like this. ICT solutions have been improved and developed to support different countries’ health systems by using local internet connection network and a central server in the biggest cities. Mobile phones are used to take insurance processing closer to people and make it faster. That solution increases access and outreach of technology in remote areas with various level of infrastructure. 

Next steps in the openIMIS development

Digital Square is a PATH-led initiative funded and designed by USAID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other foundations, as well as business partners. They want to develop openIMIS as a worldwide project. A few weeks ago they have published an open auction for companies. The project they are sponsoring includes steps such as:

  • synchronizing services with an OpenHIE (Client and Facility Registry);
  • creating a community of practice for implementers and developers of openIMIS;
  • developing claim submission, enrollment verification using the FHIR standards.

Thanks to initiatives like this, openIMIS can grow and has a bright future ahead of it. And with the expansion of this project, we are getting closer and closer to the main goal – Universal Health Coverage for everyone in the world.

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