Towards a digital health roadmap for the WHO European Region
How can countries in the Region design and invest in digital innovations that strengthen health systems to achieve better health for all? More than 300 decision-makers, policy experts and researchers from 50 countries gathered at the WHO Symposium on the Future of Digital Health Systems on 6–8 February 2019 in Copenhagen, Denmark, to discuss the way forward.
The benefits of digital health are clear. It can improve the reach, impact and efficiency of health care. It can help improve the training of the health workforce, strengthen public health surveillance, and provide health services to remote and underserved populations.
Digital health can also empower patients to take control of their health, and aid in the transition from reactive treatment to proactive prevention of diseases.
However, barriers remain to adopting digital tools.
In her opening speech at the Symposium, WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab outlined some of these. “We know that European decision-makers face multiple challenges when introducing innovation into health systems. These include allocating finances for the development of digital health services; integrating data across multiple, diverse systems; and ensuring that the health workforce is not only equipped to use technology but is also trusting and open to embracing the change that it inevitably brings. These are the real issues we see – and they are often more ‘human’ than ‘hardware’.”
Dr Jakab noted that these challenges also present immense opportunities. She concluded, “It is time to accelerate action to build the future of digital health systems in Europe, and increased public health engagement in its adoption is vital.”
Transparency and trust
Experts at the event highlighted that the governance of digital health systems requires urgent attention, and that credibility and public trust are essential to realizing the full potential of digital health. New standards and regulatory approaches are needed to ensure security and transparency so that patients are confident in the use of their data.
Building this trust requires political will to take responsibility and to lead, and to ensure that misuse of technologies is prevented.
Investing in systems and partnerships
In his closing speech at the Symposium, Dr Hans Kluge, Director of the Division of Health Systems and Public Health at WHO/Europe, outlined the next steps in developing a European roadmap for accelerating the digitalization of health systems. He underlined the importance of Member States’ support in developing the best-possible roadmap.
“When building this roadmap, we must not only be conscious of creating an unwanted digital divide, but also reaffirm our European values of solidarity and equity by actively designing and investing in health systems that prevent the divide,” he urged.
The need to invest in bold, innovative and far-reaching partnerships between state actors; with patients, communities and youth; with international partners, academics and researchers; and with the private sector was a recurring theme throughout the Symposium.
Over the 3 days, the event featured an array of high-level speakers and panellists, including several ministers of health from European countries. It offered more than 25 parallel sessions on topics ranging from artificial intelligence and interoperability to governance and ethics.