Key role for Information and Communication Technology in health care
In its very basic sense, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), refers to the various electronic tools and services that facilitate communication and the sharing of information and knowledge. The unravelling of new technologies has expanded the world of ICT in such a way that our own world seems much smaller, and much more connected than ever before.
Today ICT not only means the call you make to relatives on the other side of the world, or the quick email you send through your mobile phone. ICT is now something much more deeply woven into the fabric of our lives; it allows students to remotely connect to their university classes, or expats to send money back home through a simple SMS. ICT is the thread that has the potential to connect everyone and everything important around the world, including in the area of health.
Instances from around the world indicate that technology used intelligently has been able to improve health indicators of people in many countries. Its success in the health arena is based on the simple fact that mobile phones are almost everywhere, even in the remotest of villages and inaccessible settlements.
Take the case of Tanzania, where Afya Mtandao (Swahili for Health Network) was launched to unite Tanzanian health workers through the provision of a knowledge-sharing platform that also provides ICT support services for health institutions. A major effect of this network was that doctors could refer to specialists in other parts of the country, sometimes even during an operation, through a mobile phone. The network was thus able to solve a common issue – the difficulty of transferring patients from rural hospitals to larger institutions owing to a lack of specialist expertise. The programme also increased transparency and reduced transaction and administrative costs for healthcare providers.
In many countries, ICT also allows healthcare workers to continually build their capacity by accessing educational programmes and research. Physicians in Bangladesh, for example, are provided low-cost access (US$1.5 per month) to online medical journals, while doctors in parts of Africa can use GPS-based systems to track outbreaks of various contagious diseases. Such initiatives show that given the right policies, ICT can serve as a powerful tool for healthcare workers to expand access to affordable and quality care for millions in developing countries.
In the developed world too, ICT can serve as a catalyst of change as wealthier nations face their own health issues such as cancer, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and more. Using the services of both eHealth (health care supported by electronic processes, such as electronic health records, telemedicine and so on), and mHealth (health care supported by mobile phones such as 24/7 access to doctors, training for healthcare workers and so on), many countries have created new opportunities to effectively combat diseases and affect national health indicators. In Sweden, for instance, the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (Salar), implemented a nationwide, 24/7 telephone advice system that connects citizens to nurses trained to quickly identify symptoms.
Reflecting on the advanced steps taken by the UAE to tackle public health challenges with non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases, the government aims to use technology to deliver high-quality medical services to all Emiratis and expats. The UAE’s Ministry of Health has already signed agreements with local telecoms operators to support patients with diabetes or those at risk, as well with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
The country’s telecoms companies certainly have a big responsibility to partner with the government to offer mobile health services and technologies for the well-being of UAE’s residents. These technologies should include cutting-edge services such as wellness apps that encourage you to live a healthy life; integrated personal health records populated with health information, test results and insurance information; a cloud-based clinic management solution; virtual clinics using telemedicine and more. Clearly, there is much that ICT can do to contribute to your good health and well-being.
Hala Badri is the executive vice president, brand and communications for du.
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Updated: February 1, 2015 04:00 AM