Boosting the digitalization of health systems to help progress towards health for all
Accelerating the adoption of digital health means that millions more people will receive affordable, timely, quality health care in Europe. As part of enhancing public health action in the WHO European Region, WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab established a special initiative to facilitate the digitalization of health systems.
The initiative was launched at a meeting at Semmelweis University in Budapest, Hungary, on 21 June 2018, in parallel with the 34th Annual Conference of the European Health Management Association (EHMA). The initiative was designed to provide countries with a fast-track, integrated approach to enabling digital health for strengthening health systems and public health. It will ensure that investments in digital health are optimized in order to meet national health policy objectives and key public health challenges.
Opening the meeting, Dr Hans Kluge, Director of the Division of Health Systems and Public Health at WHO/Europe, emphasized that the initiative had come about in response to requests from Member States. He noted that WHO would “take an increased, strategic leadership role for digital health to provide enhanced support to Member States in holistically addressing all technology- and nontechnology-based aspects of reforming and innovating health systems and health care”.
Participants discussed catalysing action and partnerships to accelerate the digitalization of national health systems in Europe in order to:
- reform health service access and delivery;
- empower individuals to better manage their own health and well-being;
- improve the operational efficiency and responsiveness of the health system;
- enable the transition to integrated, people-centred models of care;
- facilitate the achievement of key public health objectives; and
- ensure that core European health system values of equity, solidarity and universalism are not placed under threat through the adoption of new technologies.
Time to take action
Key health decision-makers in countries are grappling with a variety of factors that influence health security and the quality and performance of their national health systems. Such factors include:
- increasing costs of health care;
- demographic change and population ageing;
- changing profiles and burden of disease;
- concerns about health workforce sustainability; and
- growing patient demand.
Policy-makers in the Region readily acknowledge the strategic potential of digital health to address these factors and deliver on key public health priorities. Yet it is important that this is done using structured, intersectoral approaches for developing integrated, people-centred health systems. It is vital to reach out and engage stakeholders from across governments, nongovernmental organizations, civil society, academia, patient representative groups and the private sector.
Digital technologies have long been recognized as having a crucial role in strengthening national health systems. Digital transformation has been shown to extend the scope, transparency and accessibility of health services and health information. As part of a transition to integrated, people-centred care, digital technologies can even improve the quality of service delivery and empower patients.
From resolution to reality – looking forward
In May 2018, the World Health Assembly passed a historic resolution on digital health, recognizing the major role it stands to play in strengthening health systems and achieving universal health coverage (UHC). The resolution brought into focus 2 main deliverables: developing a global strategy on digital health, and providing countries with enhanced support to accelerate the adoption of digital technologies as a key component of health systems reform.
WHO/Europe’s initiative for the digitalization of health systems has the potential to significantly accelerate the adoption of digital health and to advance UHC in European Member States by extending the scope, transparency and accessibility of health services, widening the population base capable of accessing these services, facilitating training of the health workforce and offering massive efficiency gains in the performance of health systems.