Washington, D.C., 27 September 2011 (PAHO/WHO) - The Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) will support countries in the hemisphere in developing public policies in the areas of health information and communication technologies, also known as eHealth, as part of a strategy approved today by PAHO's 51 st Directing Council.
The eHealth strategy seeks to improve access to and quality of health services through the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Among other things, these technologies are expected to increase efficiency in the use of time and resources and improve inputs for complex decision-making, including for patient diagnosis and treatment.
The new eHealth strategy will promote, among others, the use of: electronic medical records (or electronic health records); teleHealth, which involves the delivery of health services using ICTs, specifically where geographical distance presents a barrier to health care; mHealth, which employs mobile devices such as cellular phones and wireless patient-monitoring devices for medical purposes; eLearning, to increase access to distance education; continuing education for health professionals utilizing ICTs; and interoperability and standardization, which promotes compatibility between different technologies and the use of common eHealth standards.
PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses said the new strategy would help consolidate regional eHealth initiatives, prevent duplication of efforts, and ensure optimal use of human and financial resources. She said the strategy had been developed in consultation with institutions including the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Latin American and Caribbean Economic System (SELA), and the Organization of American States (OAS).
PAHO's Area Manager for Knowledge Management and Communication, Marcelo D'Agostino, said it was important to develop new norms and standards to ensure interoperability and to facilitate information exchange at the national and international levels. He also said eHealth technologies allow doctors and patients to relate in new ways. "We need to work with other agencies and institutions responsible for technological infrastructure to ensure access" to information and knowledge technologies, he added.
Several challenges persist in the Americas regarding the implementation of eHealth practices: broad segments of the population have only limited access to health services and lack sufficient human and financial resources as well as infrastructure. At the same time, access to ICTs varies across countries and population groups.
A survey carried out by PAHO in 2010 in 19 countries showed that 68 percent of respondents considered eHealth to be a priority on their national agendas, and 47 percent said policies or strategies on the use of ICTs in the health sector have already been adopted.
The strategy and plan of action on eHealth adopted today by ministers of health includes the following objectives:
- Support and promote the development, implementation, and evaluation of eHealth public policies in the countries of the Americas.
- Improve organizational and technological infrastructure to facilitate the incorporation of eHealth policies.
- Identify a legal framework that supports the use of health information and communication technologies and facilitates electronic sharing of clinical information at the national and regional levels. This legal framework will promote the validity of telemedicine activities and ensure the protection of personal data.
- Promote the use of epidemiologic surveillance services through the use of ICTs.
- Promote and facilitate horizontal cooperation among countries in developing a digital health agenda for the Region.
- Foster intersectoral cooperation within and between countries and establish electronic mechanisms for sharing best practices, regional resources, and lessons learned.
- Promote training in health information and communication technologies in universities and among health professionals.
- Provide reliable, quality information on health education and disease prevention to health professionals and the population at large.
PAHO was established in 1902 and works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of the people of the Americas. It also serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).