WHO Europe Calls for Urgent Investment in Digital Health Literacy
A landmark report from WHO Europe is calling for urgent investment in digital health literacy.
According to the Digital health in the European Region: the ongoing journey to commitment and transformation, only 1 in 2 countries in Europe and central Asia have policies to improve digital health literacy, leaving millions behind.
The adoption of digital solutions in health care has increased across the WHO European Region in recent years, changing the way patients receive care.
The report, launched at the Second WHO Symposium on the Future of Health Systems in a Digital Era in the European Region, covers all 53 Member States of the Region. While in many countries the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the creation and use of digital health tools and policies in response to lockdowns and social distancing, including telemedicine and user-friendly health apps, the report underscores that there is still much work to be done.
A key risk is the digital health divide being created because of the uneven deployment and uptake of digital solutions. This means that millions of people region-wide are still unable to benefit from digital health technology.
The report shows that the vast majority of countries in the Region (44) have a national digital health strategy. Importantly, all 53 Member States have legislation safeguarding the privacy of personal data. But the report also highlights significant gaps and areas for improvement:
- Only 19 countries have developed guidance on how to evaluate digital health interventions, which is vital to ensure they are safe and effective.
- Just over half the countries in the Region have developed policies for digital health literacy and implemented a digital inclusion plan.
- Thirty countries have introduced legislation to support telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Many countries still lack a dedicated entity responsible for oversight of mobile health (mHealth) apps, in terms of quality, safety and reliability, with just 15% reporting evaluations of government-sponsored mHealth programmes.
- Slightly more than half of the countries have developed a data strategy regulating the use of Big Data and advanced analytics in the health sector.
Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe said, ‘…In many countries, digital health programmes have so far developed on an ad-hoc basis and this needs to change. To realize the full potential of digital health, it needs to be seen as a strategic long-term investment rather than an add-on or a luxury for the few. This calls for political will at the highest levels of government and health, to ensure optimal investments in digital health infrastructure of the future now, rather than later…’