Digital health: A call for government leadership and cooperation between ICT and health

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Published
2017
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Despite its promise, however, the digital health landscape today is highly fragmented. The result is a myriad of digital health projects and applications that rarely reach scale and if they were to expand could even strain the health system. An important step toward addressing the fragmentation is a national digital health strategy. These strategies are essential to facilitate standards for interoperability, regulations and policies to support digital health solutions. 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. That is why, in September 2015, we launched the Working Group on Digital Health at the annual meeting of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development. We began by conducting a series of interviews with key stakeholders, experts and countries. At the same time, a thorough literature review and consultations with experts were undertaken. Together, the results brought us to an inescapable conclusion: with digital health solutions, we must address the priority health needs of the country; and to do so we need committed senior leadership from government with sustained financial resources to ensure a strong national digital health strategy. A case study analysis from eight countries demonstrates that the success of any national digital health strategy is dependent on strong intragovernmental cooperation between the health, ICT and finance sectors. It is clear that, in order for digital health to scale, investments and expertise are needed from the three sides. We also found that clear governance mechanisms are needed to support this cross-sectoral work within a government.