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eHealth to go beyond data processing in response to public and individual health challenges, by Najeeb Al-Shorbaji

Editorial: PAHO/WHO eHealth Newsletter (Vol.2, No.1)

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:
  • Knowledge discovery which allows health researchers and then decision makers to create knowledge and evidence from data sets of different types and formats. Extracting knowledge from data requires deep understanding of the health issues, the populations, the environment and a vision for the future.
  • Disease prediction using patterns and models based on data sets related to humans, animals, materials and environment. eHealth technologies provide the possibility of combining a large amount of heterogeneous data for classification, analysis and visual presentation which would allow for better understanding of social determinant of health.
  • Using the tools of public health informatics, medical informatics, bioinformatics and medical imaging to integrate different types of data (patient/personal, public, diseases, molecular).
  • Integrated approach for eHealth (web, mHealth, health records, smart cards, database management systems applying open standards for interoperability.
  • Networking between professionals. Social networks and communities of practices.
  • Recognition of local and national needs to support health information and medical terminology using computer-assisted translation and databases.
  • Awareness and education in a citizen-centered system through development of an integrated bidirectional multimedia health record.
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:
  • Costs the translation industry a fortune;
  • Biggest Obstacle for Electronic Medical Records;
  • Is Biggest Accessibility Barrier;
  • Limits Personal Health Solutions;
  • Is Preventing Mobile Payment Adoption.
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:
  • Access to information regardless of place and time, better quality services and efficiency;
  • It is the foundation of health information systems and support to other systems, such as ePrescribing, eBooking, management, administrative or logistics systems;
  • Without interoperability between systems electronic health records, clinical and non-clinical systems, neither could realize their full potential;
  • Improved clinical decisions and performance through interoperable data exchange and information sharing, and reorganizing clinical and other workflows and processes, reduced medical errors;
  • The economic and financial impact resulting from reduced repetitive data entry, reduced time to develop systems, reduced time in training, reduced time in validation, reduced repeated prescriptions.

Najeeb Al-Shorbaji
Director of Knowledge Management and Sharing
World Health Organization

 

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