World Health Organisation releases first guidance on digital health tech

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released its first guidance on digital health technologies for health workers, policy makers and vendors.

The 10 recommendations in the guidelines suggest digital technology can help improve healthcare but should not be seen as a “silver bullet”.

Telemedicine is singled out as a “valuable complement” to face-to-face interactions, but the guidelines warn it cannot replace them entirely.

Health systems need to respond to increased visibility and availability of information, the guidance also states, while assuring people that their data is safe and they aren’t put at risk having accessed information on sensitive topics like sexual health.

Health workers also need adequate training to use the technology available and embrace working in a digital environment.

The WHO stresses the importance of providing supportive environments for training, dealing with unstable infrastructure, as well as policies to protect privacy of individuals, and governance and coordination to ensure these tools are not fragmented across the health system.

Bernardo Mariano, WHO’s CIO, said: “Digital health is not a silver bullet.

“WHO is working to make sure it’s used as effectively as possible. This means ensuring that it adds value to the health workers and individuals using these technologies, takes into account the infrastructural limitations, and that there is proper coordination.”

Over the last two years the WHO has reviewed evidence on digital technologies and consulted with experts to produce the guidelines.

They also found digital technology has the potential to improve stock management through flagging gaps in commodity stocks and asking health systems to take action.

The new guidelines echo the likes of the Topol review and other expert advise on digital health technologies.

Handing down his final report in February this year Dr Eric Topol concluded the NHS must “focus on building a digital ready workforce”; suitably inform patients’ about health technologies; and adopt new technologies with the aim of saving staff time.

Last year governments unanimously adopted a World Health Assembly resolution calling on WHO to develop a global strategy on digital health, which is scheduled to be considered at the World Health Assembly in 2020.

WHO has also developed the Digital Health Atlas, an online global repository where vendors can register their digital health activities, to support governments in coordinating digital investments.

On 6 March, 2019 the WHO announced the creation of the Department of Digital Health to help the organisation assess digital technologies.

A copy of the 10 recommendations in the new guidance can be read from page 19 of the report here.