The World Health Organization (WHO) released its first-ever digital health interventions guidelines, recognizing the key role digital health will play in addressing long-standing issues in healthcare around the world. Yet while technology in medicine opens important doors for greater accessibility and stronger communication, it doesn’t entirely resolve many of the gaps we see in care today — and presents some problems of its own.
As digital interventions gain a larger presence in healthcare systems around the world, the WHO’s recommendations will serve as a guiding force in implementation, investment, and follow-through. The organization’s recommendations can be executed with any digital device, and aim to encourage “the mainstreaming and institutionalizing” of effective digital practices. Here is a look at what the World Health Organization recommends in the way of digital healthcare, and how it can reduce stressors in the industry:
Health worker decision support
Digital aids have the potential to help healthcare workers with challenging and stressful diagnosis and treatment decisions. According to the WHO, job aids and assessment tools could combine a patient’s health information, a health worker’s knowledge, and clinical protocol to assist in the decision-making process.
Digital tracking of services
Digitized health records, despite some challenges in implementation, can help providers easily store information and follow up with their patients. They also can help patients track their care over long periods of time, making it less stressful to try to hunt down their records.
Education and training
Digital and virtual training programs can help healthcare providers further their knowledge and reinforce training. WHO recommends offering digital education opportunities in addition to traditional methods of medical training.
Birth and death notifications
Sending digital birth and death alerts will allow health workers to more quickly transmit information and prepare for subsequent steps in the event of a birth or death, including registration and certification, as well as collecting vital statistics, and in the case of a death, compiling cause-of-death information.
A digital approach to monitoring medical supplies will involve digital communication systems, such as SMS, and data dashboards. This will enable healthcare providers to coordinate restocking efforts, and prevent highly stressful stock shortages.
This practice will allow healthcare providers to connect with patients and other providers who are not readily accessible. WHO envisions consultations between remote patients and their providers, the transmission of medical data between patients and health workers, as well as opportunities for health workers to consult specialists for second opinions and case management. Although this practice could make consultation and follow-up appointments more manageable, WHO suggests that it complements, rather than replaces, in-person care. Moreover, WHO emphasizes that telemedicine should only be practiced in situations where “patient safety, privacy, traceability, accountability and security can be monitored.”
Targeted client communication
This practice involves sending patients customized health information based on their demographics. The WHO recommends targeted communications, ranging from personal reminders for appointments to information based on health status or demographic characteristics. However, WHO only recommends this practice in specific contexts; it believes this type of communication should focus on “health issues regarding sexual, reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health under the condition that potential concerns about sensitive content and data privacy can be addressed.”
The WHO envisions a system in which its recommendations are linked, ultimately providing greater accountability and quality from healthcare providers, and ensuring supply meets demand. Furthermore, the organization hopes this report will help healthcare providers understand which health system challenges and stressors can be mediated or solved with digital technologies, which ecosystems have the capacity to apply and sustain such technologies, and which new problems may surface along the way.
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