The WHO Global Strategy on Digital Health: What You Need to Know
In April 2019 The World Health Organization (WHO) released a draft of a digital health strategy. Known as the WHO Global Strategy on Digital Health 2020-2024 (or, for short, The Strategy), its vision is to, “improve health for everyone, everywhere by accelerating the adoption of appropriate digital health”.
As arguably the most influential organization that moderates and structures our industry to improve world health, WHO’s focus on digital health aligns with the digital transformation affecting most industries, including our own. Healthcare organizations increasingly regard digital health as the most effective and economical solution to our primary challenge: to increase healthcare availability while reducing its costs, particularly for countries with a scarcity of medical professionals.
Right from the very beginning, XClinical has been preparing for the digital health evolution by designing our product line for inevitable digital integration and staunchly adhering to data standards to provide crucial scalability. Our Marvin platform both integrates wearable data and is standard compliant.
But what exactly is digital health, what are The Strategy’s key points, and how does Marvin fit in? Let’s break those 15 WHO pages into a more digestible chunk and provide some clarity.
What is Digital Health?
Digital health is a broad term but, at its core, entails using technology to improve health:
- Digital health brings the patient forward. Components of digital health include wearable technology, connected software solutions (Internet of Things or IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and big data, and empowering patients to achieve wellness through informed healthcare choices.
- Patient centricity delivers higher quality, safer and more personalized treatments, as well as lower costs. Increased access to health knowledge results in fewer medical visits, and improves healthcare, as providers deliver higher quality service and outcomes when they can target individual needs. As costs go down, more patients can access services, thereby increasing the reach of healthcare, especially in countries lacking medical staff. Wearable devices, automated data analysis, and AI that facilitate diagnoses and treatment recommendations are integral to this model of patient-driven health.
- eHealth is a key subset. An older term than digital health and often used interchangeably, WHO defines eHealth as a subset of digital health. It focuses more on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) used for health, such as electronic health records (EHR), electronic medical records (EMR), telehealth, telemedicine, health IT systems and data, virtual healthcare, mHealth and big data —many of the items delivered by eClinical systems.
What's in The Strategy?
The Strategy was developed based on three guiding principles:
- Advocating for a unified strategy for digital health initiatives
- Acknowledging that the adoption process is a country’s decision
- Promoting appropriate use of digital technologies.
These principles guide the implementation of The Strategy in two ways. The first part includes four strategic objectives:
- Committing to a shared global agenda: the UN organization will work to engage stakeholders, including government officials, healthcare organizations, ICT providers, researchers and patients
- Building a global digital health capacity specific to individual nation’s needs
- Advancing digital health in every country
- Improving digital health measurement, monitoring, research, and practice.
The second part establishes a four-part framework for action:
- Committing to the plan by creating a roadmap for action and engaging stakeholders from the shared strategy
- Catalyzing the plan by identifying and grouping country needs; providing guidance and assistance; and procuring a commitment from every country
- Measuring results with KPIs and continuous monitoring
- Incrementally iterating and improving with assessment and ongoing refinement over time.
Each of these four parts describes two to four more specific actions for implementation, starting with a roadmap for engagement as well as identifying countries willing to serve as ‘digital health champions’. The framework acknowledges that “the strategy will unfold in waves, or development cycles, that at every iteration provide assets and insights that inform and orient the next cycle of actions”.
How does The Strategy Affect eClinical Vendors in General?
The WHO strategy underscores that the health industry has evolved in the same way as traditional industries such as automotive where informed consumers can make more—and often smarter— choices. Managing government healthcare is prohibitively costly and involves vastly complex and often uncontrollable market factors. The focus therefore moves to the patient in an effort to reduce complexity.
- It opens the market. A more patient-centric approach raises the profile of existing Digital Health models and technologies, and provides exciting opportunities to prove their effectiveness.
- It lets eClinical vendors lead. eClinical vendors can drive change through research and the development of cutting-edge models, services, and products to fulfill this ever-growing global need.
- It improves insights. Key to this success is a broad view—the ability to monitor and report global developments and trends increases with the use of digital technologies in health systems, public health, and data science.
How does The Strategy affect XClinical?
Digital health, with its focus on patient centricity and personalized medicine, creates an ‘explosion’ of data. Only the most sophisticated systems can process this unprecedented amount of data – ones that ‘learn’ and improve their data management iteratively via AI and machine learning (ML). Both AI and ML rely on standardized data to produce accurate results.
Without data standards, digital technology is simply not scalable. As the WHO focuses on such standardization at a global level, XClinical already has key strategies in place to ensure digital health success:
- A product suite built from ground up using the standardized Clinical Data Interchange Consortium (CDISC) naming conventions and technology
- An open flexible system that can move to digital health, and with products and services positioned to succeed in this new arena
- Our electronic data capture system, Marvin, allows sponsors to integrate external data, such as, wearable data and any type of patient-centric data.
The digital health revolution will bring challenges, but XClinical is well prepared to turn them into exciting opportunities. As our industry adjusts to increasingly versatile types and sources of information, sponsors can count on XClinical to adapt to the changing environment.
With a standardized, open, and flexible product, our research and product development are already in alignment. As the world continues to move towards digital health, XClinical is eager to embrace the new opportunities specifically for clinical and real world research.