How smart phones are improving health care
According to the United Nations, 51% of the world now has access to broadband internet service. What does that mean for healthcare?
This week, after 2 years of research, the World Health Organization (WHO) released their first ever recommendations on digital health technology.
The main takeaway: Governments can improve healthcare for their citizens—making health systems faster, more responsive and more efficient—by using digital technology.
This could substantially help people living in remote areas who may not achieve a level of care without the use of digital devices. This means those areas could bypass decades of technological development to jump into the healthcare of the 21st Century.
It’s also a time-saver. "A health worker in Congo can directly start using a mobile phone if the government is able to provide one," said Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at WHO, "and get away from filling 30 paper registers, which occupy about one-third of front line health workers time."
Generally speaking, the area of biggest success for digital intervention is in communications. It's been a plus for healthcare providers to send digital reminders to patients for appointments or to have children return for vaccinations.
It's also helpful in decision-making and support tools that help direct health workers to provide the best care by communicating from different locations or hospitals.
"The use of digital technologies offers new opportunities to improve people’s health," said Swaminathan. Overall, the WHO gave 10 detailed, evidence-based recommendations on the positive health effects of digital technology like smartphones.
Improvements include better training and educational content, digital tracking of health status and services, targeted client communication, and greater accessibility and availability of health commodities and facilities.
But digital tools can also present negative consequences, and certainly aren’t meant to make up for inadequacies in health system management. The report details guidelines to address privacy concerns that come with a greater digital presence in storing sensitive health information.
It also encourages lawmakers around to world to help people adapt to the new digital healthcare environment. Health workers will need training and help transitioning to new technology—this requires a supportive environment to deal with a long-term project of upgrading from older infrastructure.
"Digital health is not a silver bullet," said Bernardo Mariano, WHO’s Chief Information Officer. "WHO is working to make sure it’s used as effectively as possible. This means ensuring that it adds value to the health workers and individuals using these technologies, takes into account the infrastructural limitations, and that there is proper coordination."