Unrealistic proposals can slow progress in digital health

New platforms in developing markets need broad support to succeed.

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Change management is one of the largest obstacles to overcome when scaling up digital health in developing countries, and an important investment to make right at the beginning.

Standalone projects often lose momentum, even after a successful pilot, without a wider approach to digital health investment.

Better communication between investors, healthcare managers and developers can avoid costly missteps, directing resources to solutions that are better suited to a country’s needs.

Digital technology is rapidly evolving and fast-paced, and can sometimes operate in a parallel universe to healthcare.

In low-resource settings, with limited budget and human resource capacity, the health sector can be even slower when adapting to change and introducing new investment.

Relevant Sustainable Development Goals

However, proposals for digital health systems are often warmly received, especially when these recommendations come with implementation budgets from companies and development agencies.

When budgets are tight, digital technology’s promise of improved efficiency is just as important as a better patient experience.

However, digital health systems also require other platforms to be in place to succeed, including governance, policy, financing and ICT infrastructure.  

Furthermore, decision-makers approving these investments in resource-poor settings often lack digital health experience, and rarely have all the information they need.

Subsidized pilots have little value if countries are unable to follow through.


Spotlight on the Pacific

The Asian Development Bank recently examined these obstacles for countries in the Pacific region, publishing a guide that aims to bridge the gap between those working in health policy and those working in ICT in the health sector.

The ADB’s ‘Digital Health Implementation Guide for the Pacific‘ report provides real-world user cases that are beneficial to both health system planners and tech companies, such as how digital platforms change the roles of healthcare professionals, from data entry to data analysis.

In one example, the report outlines how investments in digital health platforms in Papua New Guinea have been accompanied by wider investments in the use of data and digital health governance.

As the Pacific region becomes more connected through submarine fiber optic cables, countries are looking at ways to harness this increased digital connection. Health is often viewed as a viable sector for use.

At the same time, many Pacific countries are being approached directly by digital businesses. This often causes an asymmetry of information, where health policy makers are unfamiliar with the requirements to strengthen enabling platforms first, before introducing a vertical investment.

This can lead to systems that do not engage all stakeholders, run parallel to existing systems and fail to generate country ownership.

Pilots for new digital health platforms must support a nation’s overall approach to technology in healthcare to succeed.

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Inez Mikkelsen-Lopez

Health Specialist, Asian Development Bank

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