Guidelines stress on protecting patients’ privacy and providing supportive environments for dealing with unstable infrastructure
The World Health Organization (WHO) on April 17, 2019, 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.
The recommendations are a result of a two-year-long research by the WHO on digital technologies, including consultations with global experts, so that 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. 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 guidelines 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, such as sexual and reproductive health issues.
The guidelines stress 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.
They encourage policy-makers and implementers to review and adapt to these conditions if they want digital tools to drive tangible changes and provide 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 mobile phones, web portals, or other digital tools. 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.
The guidelines emphasise the importance of reaching vulnerable populations, and ensuring that digital health does not endanger them in any way.
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