Can technology break the silos in the healthcare sector? | Healthcare and Technology news | Scoop.it

Digital health or the use of information and communication technology (ICT) to provide health services, has the potential to advance the goal of universal health coverage and improve the quality and efficiency of health services, according to a new report published by the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development’s Working Group on Digital Health.

 

But can technology also break silos between the technology and healthcare sectors? 

 

The study group, co-chaired by the Novartis Foundation and Nokia, noted that key challenges remain in making digital health a reality, including fragmentation in digital health solutions, risks to funding continuity and capital expenditure, workforce capacity constraints, and collaboration problems across the health and ICT sectors. 

“Despite the promise and potential of global connectivity, we cannot lose sight of the fact that nearly four billion people have no access to the Internet. We need to look at innovative cross-sectoral strategies that can leverage the power of high-speed networks to improve education, healthcare and the delivery of basic social services to everyone, especially the poorest people, who need healthcare most urgently,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao.

 

The report, “Digital Health: A call for Government Leadership and Cooperation between ICT and Health,” recommends that the industry look into at least three things: the importance of senior government leadership with committed financing, effective governance mechanisms with defined roles, and a national ICT framework to facilitate alignment between the ICT and healthcare sectors.

 

“We need continuous committed leadership from government with sustained financial resources to ensure a strong national digital health strategy,” Ann Aerts, Head of the Novartis Foundation, and Chair of the Broadband Commission Working Group on Digital Health.

 

She said many technology-based health initiatives have been introduced in the past but they never reached scale or achieved long-term sustainability because more government support and intergovernmental collaboration are needed to take these initiatives past the pilot stage.

 

“To help solve these challenges and to uncover how we can truly harness the power of information and communications technology (ICT) for health, we need a better understanding of the key elements involved,” she explained in the report.

Rajeev Suri, CEO of Nokia and Chair, Broadband Commission Working Group on Digital Health, added that many technology companies are pushing the frontiers of healthcare to reach the remotest of locations, harnessing the power of mobile devices to help health professionals bring the most efficient medical techniques.

 

“The next step is to share the technology with every corner of the globe. To do that we need the leadership of national governments. Health and telecommunication should be united, working closely with regulators—to avoid potential roadblocks, change old practices and spread new knowledge on how to leverage technology for healthcare,” he said.

 

Case Study: Malaysia

With a population of 30 million, Malaysia is currently implementing the Health Information System Strategic Plan (11th MP). This plan builds on the first Health Information System Strategic Plan (10th MP) rolled out between 2010-2015. 

According to the report, the government is currently scaling of a hospital information system deployed in 25 percent of hospitals, in the process of integrating primary care and oral health clinical information system, rolling out a pharmacy information system and building the Malaysia Health Data Warehouse.

Because Malaysia began using digital health in the late 1990s when the Malaysian Ministry of Health (MoH) unveiled the first
telemedicine blueprint and created the first paperless hospital in the world, it has adopted a progressive approach.

“The MoH provides digital health leadership, strategy and program implementation in the form of three divisions: ICT, Planning and Telehealth,” the report noted. “MoH’s ICT strategic plan and ensures alignment with the national ICT strategic plan.”

However, even after years of digital health implementation, some challenges still remain. “Our biggest challenges are still the user, change management and training. And clinical leadership is so important! If you don’t get buy-in from the clinicians, the system won’t work. We learned from experience,” said Dr. Fazilah Shaik Allaudin, Director of Telehealth Division at MoH.  

 

Other challenges include monitoring, evaluation, and private sector engagement. “ “We’re still struggling with M&E and how to do it effectively. We haven’t really come up with a mechanism for this yet. We’ve seen hospitals give up on digital systems and go back to paper or situations where the core team involved in implementation leaves and the project dies or loses momentum. How do you keep this when the leader leaves? How to keep the fire burning?” he explained.

 

Case Study: Philippines

The Philippines launched the National eHealth Strategy in 2010. This was followed in 2014 with the release of the eHealth Strategic Framework and Plan for 2004-2020. The overall goal of the plans is to achieve universal health coverage, which means access to affordable health services for all citizens.

Some of the key performance indicators (KPIs) the 2014 eHealth framework set out to do include the increasing use of the DoH/PhilHealth eClaims, deployment of telehealth devices, the establishment of a government data warehouse and implementation of health data standards.

According to the report, a joint memorandum between the Department of Health (DoH) and the Department of Science and Technology (DoST) created the basis for a shared understanding of roles and responsibilities. Each agency has its own IT teams which make it hard to know which team is responsible for what. 

“In our country, the DoST was keen to start working on eHealth but realized that it needed to be led by the health sector as per the WHO-ITU Toolkit. Fortunately, our DoH also shared the same view. From this common ground, the seeds for the multisectoral approach emerged. The key is to get those two persons engaged, one from the DoH and one from the DoST, and involved in the development of the national eHealth strategy” Dr. Alvin Marcelo, Executive Director of AeHIN and former CIO of PhilHealth.

Meanwhile, the creation of advisory groups allowed universities and private-sector representatives to share their expertise and views. 

 

“Cross-sectoral collaboration is not easy. Players come from different backgrounds, with different approaches and priorities, and may understand different things on the basis of the same words or phrases,” affirmed Zhao in the report’s foreword. “Nowhere is this truer than in digital health, where the needs are great, the investments are significant and lives are at risk.”