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Shaping the future of global health with the use of digital technologies

Aggiornamento: 16 ago 2023

By Mia Hem

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development emphasizes the importance of the spread of information, communication technology and global interconnectedness, and their significance in accelerating human progress and bridging the digital divide while developing knowledge societies. With greater access to services and data, the government has already had a number of technology-enabled breakthroughs in the provision of health care. But there is still much more potential. There is a growing consensus in the global health community that the innovative and strategic use of data, and communications technology are crucial in ensuring universal health coverage, protection from health emergencies, general health, and well-being.

The digital transformation of healthcare can, however, be disruptive. The internet of things, virtual care, Artificial Intelligence, big data analytics, blockchain, etc, can enhance health outcomes and give support to health care. Still, many countries require institutional support, which call for more resources and capabilities. Digital health should be an integral part of health priorities and benefit people in a way that is ethical, safe, secure, reliable, equitable and sustainable. It must be developed with principles of transparency, accessibility, scalability, privacy and confidentiality.

The aim is to improve universal health, by accelerating the development and adoption of appropriate, accessible, affordable, scalable and sustainable person-centric digital health solutions to prevent, detect and respond to health needs. Digital health must be accessible to all, be of quality, efficient, sustainable, and affordable. It must strengthen and scale up health promotion, in a structure that respects privacy and security of patient health information. It must enhance research, development and innovation across sectors. With the radical change of health outcomes this may lead to, it is crucial that governments, institutions and the workforce collaborate in training, planning and management as the services are increasingly digitized. We must explore the potential global solutions, in order to not exclude middle- and low-income countries, and ensure their access to new health systems.

There is a need for a strong legal and regulatory base to protect privacy, confidentiality, integrity and availability of data, the processing of personal health data, and to deal with cybersecurity, trust building, accountability, governance, and ethics requirements, ensuring that good data quality is collected and subsequently shared to support planning, commissioning and transformation of services. We must maintain transparency and effectively communicate about data security strategies, which protects patients' privacy, security and integrity.

The four guiding principles that aim to orient the global strategy towards the appropriate and sustainable adoption of digital health technologies within the context of the national health sector and health strategies are:

  1. Acknowledge that institutionalization of digital health in the national health system requires a decision and commitment by countries.

  2. Recognize that successful digital health initiatives require an integrated strategy.

  3. Promote the appropriate use of digital technologies for health.

  4. Recognize the urgent need to address the major impediments faced by least-developed countries implementing digital health technologies.

These principles are met through four strategic objectives, intended to provide guidance and coordination on global health transformation and to strengthen synergies between initiative and stakeholders to improve health outcomes and mitigate associated risks at all levels. And they are:

  1. Promotion of global collaboration and advancement of the transfer of knowledge on digital health.

  2. Advancement of the implementation of national digital health strategies.

  3. Strengthening of governance for digital health at global, regional, and national levels.

  4. Advocating for people-centered health systems that are enabled by digital health.

Working collectively towards shared strategic objectives, both locally and globally, partners can accommodate diversity and jointly consider concepts, road maps, methods, tools, funding, and other factors to help the implementation of and support countries in various development contexts to make optimal use of digital health technologies.

Each State should consider its health priorities, its current digital health situation, the planned or aspirational state of digital health, resource constraints, capacity limitations, risks, and other influential factors. A national interoperable digital health system should be set up in such a way that the information technology health infrastructures are both interoperable among each other and allow for differences in national legislation and policies, capable of sharing health data with infrastructures of other countries. There must be dynamic monitoring of the maturity levels of digital health in countries and institutions while assessing the implementation strategies through standard agreed-upon metrics. Consideration should be given to aligning the performance monitoring indicators with a national and/or global action plan for linking the global strategy on digital health and action plan with policy options and actions, outputs, and impacts.

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