Digital Health & Global Development: The Key to Achieving Universal Health Coverage?

By Dominique Torres Van Der Rijst, GBCHealth Social Media Corps

On day III of the GBCHealth 2013 conference, panelists representing international organizations, foundations, private sector companies and research institutions gathered to discuss one idea: Is digital health the way forward when it comes to assuring access to health in the 21st Century?

eHealth relates to the inclusion of technology into healthcare services, which can range from electronic health records (meaning sharing information about patients across various healthcare professionals), to mHealth (aimed at utilizing mobile phones as platforms for providing healthcare information, direct provision of care, etc.) and healthcare information systems (the use of software programs to provide solutions to administrative and management areas around health), among many other uses that technology is providing to the health space.

Two socio-economic trends, one being the generalized decrease of spending on healthcare, and the other one being the unprecedented ageing of the world’s population, provide a new context where it´s worth exploring the ways in which technology can alleviate the increasing demand of health care services.

Dennis Gilhooly, Executive Director from the Global Digital He@lth Initiative, moderated the conversation. Recognizing mega trends in technology including the consolidation of the use of smart phones, and the access to broadband and social networks, he asked panelists how these interact with health.

Neil Jordan, General Manager of Health for Microsoft Worldwide Public Sector, acknowledged the importance of integrating analytics into electronic health records, and recognized the concerns around cloud computing and user security.

Joanna Rubinstein, who serves as Assistant Director at the Earth Institute for International Programs, provided a successful example on the race towards the achievement of the MDGs: the Millennium Villages, a poverty reduction project that utilizes the Internet, remote sensing and other improved technologies to help communities of rural areas of 10 African countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda). The project is community-based and designed individually to better address the specific needs of each recipient.

Dr William P. Magee Jr., founder of Operation Smile, referred to the importance of a medical record system that can be taken to the field to increase effectiveness. In addition to this, Dr Magee Jr. mentioned how his organization was able to raise $6 million only via social media platforms, which remind us the potential that new media has in reaching worldwide audiences in this case, around the cause of improving children´s quality of life.

As disruptive technology becomes increasingly important in the health space, questions concerning its potential to accelerate development are still being explored. Will innovation in the health sector be considered in the post 2015 agenda as a key factor for progress?