WHO stresses on use of digital health tech

Sunday, 21 April 2019

“Ultimately, digital technologies do not end in themselves. They are vital tools to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable,” said Ghebreyesus.

Pune: The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday released new recommendations saying that countries can use digital health technology, accessible via mobile phones, tablets and computers, to improve people’s health and essential services.

In an official statement, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that harnessing the power of digital technologies is essential for achieving universal health coverage.

“Ultimately, digital technologies do not end in themselves. They are vital tools to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable,” said Ghebreyesus.

WHO Chief Scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan said that the use of digital technologies offers new opportunities to improve people’s health.“But, the evidence also highlights challenges in the impact of some interventions. If digital technologies are to be sustained and integrated into health systems, they must be able to demonstrate long-term improvements over the traditional ways of delivering health services,” said Swaminathan.

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 . 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. 

Dr Garrett Mehl, a WHO scientist in digital innovations and research, said that digital interventions, depend heavily on the context. Digital health interventions are not sufficient on their own.

The guidelines of WHO demonstrate 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.

Health workers need adequate training to boost their motivation to transition to this new way of working and need to use technology easily. The guidelines stress on the importance of providing supportive environments for training, dealing with unstable infrastructure as well as policies, to protect the privacy of individuals and governance and coordination to ensure these tools are not fragmented across the health system.

The guidelines encourage 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 guidelines also make recommendations about telemedicine, which allows people living in remote locations to obtain health services by using digital tools.The 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.

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