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WHO releases first guideline on digital health interventions
Health

WHO releases first guideline on digital health interventions

Agency News

Kolkata, Apr 18: The World Health Organization (WHO) has 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.

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, a WHO statement on Thursday said. 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.

“The use of digital technologies offers new opportunities to improve people’s health,” says Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at WHO. “But the evidence also highlights challenges in the impact of some interventions.” She adds: “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.”

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 interventions, depend heavily on the context and ensuring appropriate design,” warns Dr Garrett Mehl, WHO scientist in digital innovations and research. “This includes structural issues in the settings where they are being used, available infrastructure, the health needs they are trying to address, and the ease of use of the technology itself.”

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. (UNI)