Unleashing the opportunity of digital technologies for developing health systems

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Suzanne Wait and Catherine Whicher from The Health Policy Partnership discuss the opportunities to improve populations’ wellbeing and access to care by harnessing innovative digital health tools and technologies

Digital technologies are widely seen as a core component of advanced health systems around the world but are less often recognised for their role in advancing more equitable and effective care in lower-resourced regions. In low- and middle-income countries that do not have well-established health systems, the absence of potentially outdated infrastructure may actually create opportunities to integrate digital tools more easily, opening up possibilities to deliver more effective healthcare while improving the efficiency of health systems.

Levelling the playing field

Many governments around the world are aware of this opportunity and are making better use of data as a fundamental component of their development strategies. As discussed at one recent event in Türkiye, organised by Amazon Web Services, regulatory and legislative frameworks that enable secure data sharing and access, alongside policies such as cloud computing strategies, can support innovative healthcare projects. For example, the Turkish Brain Project seeks to use AI models to read MRI scans, enabling faster and more accurate diagnoses of strokes, tumours and other conditions, while Türkiye’s Digital Eye Project will use AI to support radiologists in reading mammograms. Other countries are similarly harnessing opportunities such as AI-assisted imaging to support screening programmes, which may be particularly practical in regions with shortages of healthcare practitioners.

The availability of technologies like cloud computing and mobile phones means hospitals and other health centres no longer require ever- expanding server rooms to store and manage their IT systems. Instead, scalable storage can be acquired from providers that take responsibility for maintaining, expanding and updating digital infrastructure. Many major cloud service providers also supply digital tools on their cloud consoles for cybersecurity, advanced analytics and even AI, democratising access to technologies that previously could scarcely be imagined outside hubs like Silicon Valley.

A doctor in every pocket

Telemedicine has been the focus of many policy reforms around the world following its expanded use at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been found to alleviate strain on health systems, giving people the opportunity to communicate with their care providers more easily than ever. For people living with chronic conditions, this can translate to enormous cost and time savings. With smartphones and wearable tech increasingly commonplace, many individuals also carry tools around that can support their daily wellbeing.

Start-ups and industry giants alike are embracing innovative solutions to answer many of our most urgent health questions and create more streamlined, efficient, and effective care. The mobile-based mDoc platform operates across several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and has developed a holistic ecosystem of self-monitoring tools and access to a multidisciplinary team of experts. With only a smartphone and internet connection, an increasing number of people can become more engaged in managing their chronic conditions while having access to comprehensive, person-centred care.

Making modern medicine work for all

It’s a hopeful and exciting time to work at the intersection of health and technology – two rapidly evolving fields that together are transforming our day-to-day wellbeing and prospects for a healthy future. Digital health tools and technologies can be developed, trialled, scaled up and disseminated like never before. Health policymakers and decision-makers can help improve access to care by embracing innovation and addressing as a priority any socioeconomic factors that could keep better health out of reach.By keeping patient representatives and advocates at the heart of discussions, we can ensure people’s different needs and priorities are kept front and centre as these technologies are designed and adopted.

Disclaimer

This article follows the publication of the Turkish translation of Our Health in the Cloud, a report developed by The Health Policy Partnership (HPP) with support and funding from Amazon Web Services (AWS).

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