WHO’s 10 recommendations on use of digital health technology

WHO’s 10 recommendations on use of digital health technology

WHO’s 10 recommendations on use of digital health technology

Rahul Bhandari, IAS

Among recent news, WHO released its 10 recommendations for using digital health technology. The two-year-long research emphasised on protecting the privacy of patients and providing ways of dealing with inadequate infrastructure. Clearly, the guidelines are ways to drive the consumer behaviour towards the use of technology (through mobile phones, tablets and computers) in rural and remote areas.  Reminders being sent to pregnant women for attending antenatal care appointments and bringing their children for vaccinations, has already started bringing positive effects in some areas.  Laying emphasis on the importance of reaching vulnerable populations is one of the key functions of these recommendations.

The guidelines are designed in such a way that they can aid the decision makers from the government health sectors, public health sectors and all other stakeholders in understanding the use of digital tools to address the health needs of their population. On the same note, WHO also stresses that all the data collected must be kept safe and private to ensure people that they will not be put at risk for sharing their medical history, or any other information concerning their health. Information on sensitive issues like sexual and reproductive health must be dealt with care in the light of increased visibility of information wherever we look. Finally, an international organization with a history of reputable discourse is trying to ensure that digital health does not endanger people in any way, and this is a development in itself.

Developing support tools to guide health workers during the process of extending care seems like a path breaking success when we keep in mind the shortage of adequately skilled staff in rural villages and urban slums. The idea is to enable health workers from different locations to connect with each other and take collective decisions to fill the gap. Also, communication and consultation with health experts across the globe is a benefit reaped by everyone alike. In situations like these, training the medical staff through the use of such technological interventions becomes a quick and feasible method of reaching the unreached.

Access to even the most basic healthcare services is a challenge for the communities living in the underserved areas. The concept of telemedicine is one the most important recommendations that can directly benefit and change the lifestyle of millions of people pushed to the margins. The approach is built around a face to face interaction of doctors and patients facilitated by health experts, through video conferencing. Although not for the first time, but the concept has already materialized and running a full-fledged course in one of the remotest villages of Bhilwara and Gangapur block in Rajasthan (India). With the help of Karma Healthcare Services and an NGO named Smile Foundation, a model designed in the format of ‘hub and spoke’ connects secondary establishments that provide basic healthcare services and referring patients needing more intensive care, through a network, to the hub which offers a full range of services and is a relatively more accessible place. All the while, a medical van equipped with medical inputs, professional doctors, nurses and highly trained staff, connects the ‘hub’ to the ‘spokes’, all of which are built with the ability to provide diagnostics and medical consultation services through video conferencing with specialized doctors and equipment available at the telemedicine clinics managed by the healthcare company. In a span of five months, the results have brought down the consultation with quacks to almost null- a business that thrived otherwise in the absence of any healthcare facility in the nearby areas.

These steps may seem small to look at from where we stand at the moment. But if they can transform the face of rural India, the step is truly ‘a giant leap for mankind’.

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