It gives me a pleasure to contribute this editorial piece to the PAHO eHealth Newsletter. I believe a newsletter of this nature is needed as a platform to share ideas, and exchange experiences not only at the level of the Americas but also at the global level.
Health is a knowledge intensive sector. The World Summit of Information Society, among other areas, singled out health as one of the major sectors that will substantially benefit from the information and communication technology (ICT) development. The transformation to the information society and emerging of the knowledge economy has opened a huge opportunity for the health to become in the forefront in terms of this transformation through eHealth. The World Health Assembly recognized the importance of eHealth and adapted a resolution in 2005 which asked WHO Director General and WHO Member States to take steps to strengthen this area as integral part of health system strengthening. A lot of work has been done by WHO in this field which I hope this newsletter, the WHO websites and reports produced by different offices will be able to demonstrate.
A lot of pilots have been initiated, many of them have not had the opportunity to scale up, while many national programmes are underway. One of the biggest risks of eHealth development is to leave it to be driven by technology rather than by health needs and national health priorities. To go beyond health data collection, processing and dissemination, eHealth has the potential and even the mandate to support:
Heterogeneous data sets, fragmented systems, unconnected applications, diverse data sources and data needs, multilingual resources, different cultures and political systems and lack of universality and possibly many other factors present a challenge to eHealth going beyond data processing.
Interoperability is a prerequisite for successful networked and connected systems. Lack of interoperability has negative impact on system performance, loss of data, time, and duplication of effort, patient safety risks and on total cost of ownership. The web is full of statements demonstrating the impact of lack of interoperability:
And the list can go on.
For these reasons and recognizing the benefits of interoperability, the WHO Forum on Standardization and Interoperability was established and held its first session earlier this month. A more detailed report is provided in this issue of the Newsletter. We believe that interoperability will allow us to go beyond data processing and benefit the public and individual health through eHealth as it has, among others, the following benefits: