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WHO Drafts Global Strategy on Digital Health

Posted 08 April 2019 | By Ana Mulero 

WHO Drafts Global Strategy on Digital Health

The World Health Organization (WHO) released a newly drafted four-year global strategy on digital health, with an aim to “improve health for everyone, everywhere by accelerating the adoption of appropriate digital health.”

As more health care delivery systems look to digital health to address emerging challenges, such as the rise of noncommunicable diseases, clinician workforce shortages and the aging population, barriers to the adoption and application of such tools persist due to information fragmentation, a lack of institutional support, and interoperability and security concerns, among others.

For a more integrated approach for applying information and communication technologies (ICT) to health care delivery and patient care, the global strategy on digital health was developed based on guiding principles. These call for advocating for a unified strategy to digital health initiatives, acknowledging that the adoption process is a country’s decision and promoting appropriate use.

The three principles are intended to guide the implementation of the two-part global strategy. The first part outlines four strategic objectives, while the second establishes a four-part framework for action.

The UN organization will work to engage stakeholders, including government officials, health care organizations, ICT providers, researchers and patients, among others, on a shared digital health agenda for the first strategic objective. “The successful use of digital technologies demands an unprecedented level of awareness and understanding of their applicability and use, together with commitments from governments, organizations and individuals,” WHO noted. “Awareness is a goal on its own.”

The second objective is intended to build digital health capacity along the seven components set forth in WHO’s 2012 National eHealth Strategy Toolkit. The third “lies at the core of the strategy…to stimulate and support” country-specific digital health strategies. The lack of metrics to evaluate progress on new initiatives, frameworks and policies also poses a challenge.

The four “major actions” that form the framework draw from five basic concepts, including a shared strategy, guidance and assistance to countries, a commitment on the part of every country, independent but coordinated actions and continuously refining the framework over time.  Each of the four parts describes two to four more specific actions for implementation, starting with a roadmap for engagement as well as identifying countries willing to serve as “digital health champions.”

The “measure” action will aid in assessing the effectiveness and efficiency of the first two—commit and catalyze, which includes creating a regulations repository. Under the third action, WHO will collaborate with committed stakeholders to assess implications in achieving the four objectives. The framework culminates in recognition that “the strategy will unfold in waves, or development cycle, that, at every iteration, provide assets and insights that inform and orient the next cycle of actions,” WHO said.

Actions will take place from 2020 through 2024, with the draft’s comment period set to close 30 April.

WHO, Global Strategy on Digital Health 2020-2024

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