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Virtual Health Library: 23 years in constant development and evolution

20 Apr 2021

Twenty-three years ago, the Latin American and Caribbean Health Information Network met and approved a new health information and knowledge management model, the VHL Model – the Virtual Health Library, idealized by Abel Packer, former director of BIREME/PAHO/WHO.

At that time, it was not possible to grasp the size and strength of the proposed model to contribute to a common objective: to give visibility and broad access to scientific and technical knowledge in health of and for the countries in the Latin American and Caribbean Region, contributing to narrow the gap between evidence (science) and practice.

Reflecting on the relationship between the VHL and the Network established for its collective building, there is consensus that the Network and the VHL are co-dependent, in a good sense, and are ecosystems that coexist and walk together. No matter who was born first, if the VHL or the Network, the VHL without the Network would not be able to be consolidated or grow. Likewise, the Network without the VHL, might not have been able to consolidate itself as a team that manages to do collaborative work, which pursues similar objectives, and has the VHL as the platform, strategy, and space to join forces and walk together.

The VHL is much more than a Virtual Health Library Portal, it is a strategy that responds to the needs of actors involved in certain areas of Health, in a country, institution and/or in a region. The VHL, through its consolidated information management model, with well-developed methodologies and technologies, has the potential to improve the articulation between individuals/institutions in health systems, academia, research, public policies, etc.

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The VHL is a space for multiple projects, products, services and networks. Many define the VHL as a network of networks, which is dynamic, constantly evolving, will never be complete or terminated, and will always depend on permanent updating and development.

For Veronica Abdala, BIREME’s Information Sources and Services Manager, “reaching the VHL’s 23rd anniversary as a health information management model on the internet, and supported primarily by a network, is indeed a great cause for celebration! But it is also a reason to acknowledge PAHO, the tireless team of BIREME and all colleagues and information professionals from the countries that make up the VHL Network. With everyone’s efforts, the VHL will live many and many more years, while always being improved”.

Evolution of the VHL

The evolution of the VHL Model has always been ongoing, both conceptually and technologically, but always aligned and based on collaborative networks, harnessed for the creation, organization, and dissemination of information in health for all.

As part of this development, BIREME has just published a new revised and updated version of the VHL Guide, which is intended for information professionals interested in how to participate and/or collaborate in the construction of the VHL.

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Another important development was the creation of a new instrument to assess the maturity level of VHL initiatives in countries, thematic areas and/or institutions. The new instrument replaces the VHL’ old certification process, and innovates in the following aspects:

  • The definition of the maturity level of each VHL will be carried out through a self-assessment process. Periodically, VHL coordinators assess aspects related to 4 dimensions: governance; organization and updating of content; communication and services to users; and technology platforms used in their VHL.
  • As a result of the implementation of the instrument, each dimension of the VHL is classified at a certain maturity level, with the indication of the topics/points that must be improved in order to level-up, promoting a dynamic of improvement and continuous evolution of the VHL.

The VHL evaluation instrument is being tested by VHL coordinators and will be available from April 15 this year. Once the instrument is implemented, the result will be the basis for the establishment of actions to be carried out by each VHS in the 2021 Action Plan to strengthen the VHL in countries, thematic areas, and institutions. BIREME accompanies VHL coordinators in defining strategic actions, goals, and implementation of the plan through meetings scheduled throughout the entire year.

On the VHL Network Portal, you will find access to the VHL 2020 Guide, the Maturity Instrument, and the 2021 Action Plan. http://red.bvsalud.org/modelo-bvs/en/

According to Diego González, Director of BIREME, “providing countries with an information management model to give visibility and access to evidence for decision-making in health and information products and services has been a challenge for the center as part of its mission. It would not be possible to have the results that we can show today, at 23 years old, if it hadn’t been for the work of our networks of cooperation at national, regional and thematic levels”.

“It is worth noting the usefulness of the VHL at the present time, during the COVID-19 pandemic, in which it is necessary to have access to reliable information and evidence for decision-making to be able to recover quickly, and especially to deal with the current information epidemic”, Dr. González said.

Congratulations to the entire BIREME team, the VHL Network, and everyone who makes it possible for the VHL model to continue to evolve.