On August 18, 2023, the World Bank issued a publication entitled, “Digital-in-Health: Unlocking the Value for Everyone (“World Bank Report”),” which recommends to governments a new digital-in-health approach where digital technology and data are infused into every aspect of health systems management and health service delivery to improve individuals’ health outcomes. The stated goal of the World Bank Report is to provide governments and other stakeholders with practical guidance on how to build digital health infrastructure, regardless of a country’s digital maturity or fiscal challenges.
The World Bank Report proposes the “digital-in-health” mindset—a new way of thinking from simple digitization of health data to fully integrating digital technology in health systems. It proposes infusing digital technologies in health financing, service delivery, diagnostics, medical education, pandemic preparedness, climate and health efforts, nutrition, and aging. It also underscores that the successful use of digital technologies must be inclusive of all population groups and ensure access to digital infrastructure, modern technologies, and skills, especially for vulnerable people.
Through country-specific case studies, the World Bank Report considers the maturity of the digital aspects of low- and middle-income countries’ health systems and identifies the challenges that countries face in further maturing the digital aspects of their health systems. To support countries’ efforts to address the determinants of digital-in-health progress, the World Bank Report issues recommendations to governments. Specifically, it proposes ten recommendations across three priority areas for governments to support countries’ efforts to help countries make progress in prioritizing, connecting, and scaling up digital technology and data:
- Prioritize digital intervention to solve health challenges
- 1. People- and problem-centered choices: Choose digital technology that responds to people’s health needs and is evidence-based
- 2. Reaching the underserved: Choose digital solutions that improve access and availability of health care services to vulnerable and marginalized groups
- Connect to deliver new, more, better and seamless health services that a changing world requires
- 3. Leadership and partnership: Drive digital action within and across sectors through strong country leadership
- 4. Data governance: Increase the use and reuse of data to realize greater value, while reinforcing ethical standards and regulatory systems to ensure equitable and trustworthy digital solutions
- 3. Digital infrastructure and health information gaps: Connect facilities, services, information, and people, and fill health information gaps by connecting siloed information systems
- 4. Global and regional collaboration: Global and regional solidarity to support countries as they lead digital investments in their health systems
- Scale to ensure equitable access to health care for everyone and leave no one behind
- 7. Digital skills and literacy: Help patients and providers understand, trust, and confidently use new technology and data
- 8. Nimble public-private and private-private partnerships: Innovate how the private and public sectors work together in designing, delivering, and funding digital solutions
- 9. Wider digital transformation: Create synergy between the health system’s efforts and the wider digital transformation agenda in a country
- 10. Financing and implementation: Finance enough at the right time, monitor implementation progress, and track outcomes
To make “digital-in-health” a reality, the World Bank Report states that global, regional, and country leadership must involve all relevant sectors and stakeholders, including civil society, in its efforts. It explains that digital technology and data improvements will involve investments beyond the health sector and new partnerships with the private sector. Notably, the World Bank Report also highlights the increased role that artificial intelligence, big data, and similar rapidly developing technologies will have in the digital health ecosystem.
The World Bank has issued in recent years publications and highlighted initiatives recognizing the importance of the digital economy and the ways in which digitalization supports development goals. In 2022, the World Bank committed to supporting five pillars of the global agenda for digitalization and development: (a) digital infrastructure, (b) digital platforms, (c) digital enablers, (d) digital safeguards, and (e) the crosscutting areas of gender and social inclusion and regional and international collaboration. The World Bank Report is the most recent action to outline the digital-in-health strategy and encourage government investments in digital technologies for their health systems.
Similar to publications issued by other international organizations, the World Bank Report highlights equity issues with access to digital technologies for health and argues that strong ethical standards and regulatory systems are essential to a stable digital ecosystem. Companies may want to consider how the recommendations included in the World Bank Report impact organizational goals and regulatory compliance programs. For international companies, the recommendations may be particularly helpful to inform policies and government engagement strategies as global adoption of innovative health technologies continue to evolve.
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