First guideline on digital health interventions
The World Health Organisation (WHO) released new recommendations on 10 ways that countries can use digital health technology, accessible via mobile phones, tablets and computers, to improve people's health and essential services.
"Harnessing the power of digital technologies is essential for achieving universal health coverage," says WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "Ultimately, digital technologies are not ends in themselves; they are vital tools to promote health, keep the world safe, and serve the vulnerable."
Over the past two years, WHO systematically reviewed evidence on digital technologies and consulted with experts from around the world to produce recommendations on some key ways such tools may be used for maximum impact on health systems and people's health.
One digital intervention already having positive effects in some areas is sending reminders to pregnant women to attend antenatal care appointments and having children return for vaccinations. Other digital approaches reviewed include decision-support tools to guide health workers as they provide care; and enabling individuals and health workers to communicate and consult on health issues from across different locations.
For example, the guideline points to the potential to improve stock management. Digital technologies enable health workers to communicate more efficiently on the status of commodity stocks and gaps.
However, notification alone is not enough to improve commodity management; health systems also must respond and take action in a timely manner for replenishing needed commodities.
Digital health interventions are not sufficient on their own. The guideline demonstrates that health systems need to respond to the increased visibility and availability of information. People also must be assured that their own data is safe and that they are not being put at risk because they have accessed information on sensitive health topics, such as sexual and reproductive health issues.
Health workers need adequate training to boost their motivation to transition to this new way of working and need to use the technology easily.
The guideline stresses the importance of providing supportive environments for training, dealing with unstable infrastructure, as well as policies to protect privacy of individuals, and governance and coordination to ensure these tools are not fragmented across the health system.
The guideline encourages policy-makers and implementers to review and adapt to these conditions if they want digital tools to drive tangible changes and provides guidance on taking privacy considerations on access to patient data.
The guideline also makes recommendations about telemedicine, which allows people living in remote locations to obtain health services by using mobile phones, web portals, or other digital tools.
WHO points out that this is a valuable complement to face-to-face-interactions, but it cannot replace them entirely. It is also important that consultations are conducted by qualified health workers and that the privacy of individuals' health information is maintained.
The guideline emphasises the importance of reaching vulnerable populations, and ensuring that digital health does not endanger them in any way. This guideline represents the first of many explorations into the use of digital technologies and has only covered a fraction of the many aspects of digital health.
Source: World Health Organisation
The guideline is available on http://bit.ly/whoDHI