Monitoring the rapid evolution of digital health challenging, says new report
Digital health programmes and interventions are often not monitored or evaluated, despite their clear potential, finds a new report by WHO/Europe and the Regional Centre for Studies on the Development of the Information Society (Cetic.br) of the Brazilian Network Information Centre (NIC.br). Reliable data and indicators are needed to help governments measure progress, identify good practices, and adopt solutions for meaningful and equitable use of digital health technologies, says the report, which reviews national digital health monitoring activities in 8 countries across 3 WHO regions over the last 5 years.
The “Regional digital health action plan for the WHO European Region 2023–2030”, launched in September 2022, recognizes the need to monitor developments and trends in new and emerging digital solutions with the potential to enhance health systems and improve people’s health.
Strategies to expand health coverage
Information and communication technologies for health have expanded substantially in recent years, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the use of telehealth and other digital health-care services.
Digital technologies and health information systems can be used in care provision, aiding in patient risk analysis, prognosis and decisions about medical care; short-term planning, such as in the organization of teams and resources, and in the management of hospitals, municipalities and states; and long-term planning, such as in the assessment of public policies and strategies.
“Digital health and strengthened health information systems, with enough investment in governance and capacity, can improve the efficiency and sustainability of health systems, deliver better-quality, affordable and equitable care, and strengthen and extend health promotion, public health surveillance, disease prevention, diagnosis, management, rehabilitation and palliative care,” shares Alexandre Barbosa, Manager of Cetic.br, and co-author of the study.
Rapid evolution of digital health
The study consolidates the available information on approaches and indicators employed in the past 5 years to monitor digital health by WHO, the European Commission, the Nordic eHealth Research Network, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
The new report, “Monitoring implementation of digital health: an overview of selected national and international methodologies”, provides an updated overview of current international, regional and national monitoring efforts for digital health technologies. It finds that while countries and organizations have made progress in monitoring their implementation, existing metrics and indicators struggle to keep up with the rapid evolution of digital health. In particular, the measurement of governance and reuse of health data across health-care systems, and technical and operational readiness to share these data for statistical and research purposes (e.g. system-wide interoperability), are emerging as common and challenging priorities. Other challenges include significant variability in how telehealth is monitored, the need for new indicators to monitor digital health inequalities, and reviewing data sources and collection to measure the impact of policies.
“Progress is needed in developing and collecting comparable data and a common set of indicators, as well as sharing information and knowledge for measuring national digital health maturity levels,” explains Dr David Novillo-Ortiz, Regional Adviser on Data and Digital Health at WHO/Europe.
The regional digital health action plan encourages development of a measurement framework to monitor digital health in the European Region. Developed with partners and the 53 countries of the Region, the plan will support countries in leveraging and scaling up digital transformation for better health and aligning digital technology investment decisions with health system needs.