“Sometimes a human is the best technology for eHealth”

Karl Brown shares his vision and the experience of the Rockefeller Foundation on the use of information and communication technologies in public health

Washington, D.C., 5 October 2012–In the framework of its Digital Literacy Program, and as a part of the implementation of the eHealth Strategy for the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) launched its eHealth Webinar Series that will support the development and strengthening of individual and collective capacities of health workers, their institutions, and the health of the people in general.

In the first seminar, Karl Brown, who works as the associate director of Applied Technology at the Rockefeller Foundation, shared his vision and experience on the work of the Foundation in eHealth throughout the world. He reinforced important concepts and highlighted experiences to take into consideration when implementing projects of information technologies in public health.

“Sometimes a human is the best technology for eHealth,” said Brown. “A well-trained expert will continue to have an impact on the health system throughout his or her whole career.”

Throughout his presentation, Brown emphasized that the key to success in eHealth is to build on the experiences and knowledge of other countries. “The problems are different, but the underlying solution is usually common and shareable,” he said. “No country should have to reinvent the wheel.” He highlighted three areas of work on eHealth: the need for integrated health information systems, the development of public policies, and the role of building capacities on eHealth.

Several challenges persist in the Americas regarding the implementation of eHealth practices: broad segments of the population have only limited access to health services and lack sufficient human and financial resources as well as infrastructure. At the same time, access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) varies across countries and population groups.

PAHO/WHO’s regional eHealth strategy seeks to improve access to and quality of health services through ICTs. Among other things, these technologies are expected to increase efficiency in the use of time and resources and improve inputs for complex decision-making, including for patient diagnosis and treatment. Over the past year, PAHO/WHO has advised member countries on the formulation of public policies on eHealth.

“Policy matters, but you also need an infrastructure put in place that can turn policy into action, for example, through an eHealth unit in the ministry of health and an eHealth steering committee,” said Brown.

Marcelo D’Agostino, Area Manager of Knowledge Management and Communications and general coordinator of eHealth at PAHO/WHO, inaugurated the series of seminars and highlighted the importance of networking with key eHealth actors in the Region of the Americas and the world.

Both PAHO/WHO and the Rockefeller Foundation agree on the importance of public policies that are focused on the development of interoperable health information systems. Both institutions promote the adoption of standards to facilitate the exchange of information in health systems at the national and international levels, which facilitates greater access to health information to people at different care levels of the health system and enables them to make better-informed decisions.

The Rockefeller Foundation and PAHO/WHO will continue to work together to promote the sharing of experiences and exchange of knowledge and information on eHealth among countries in the Americas and other regions.

This activity responds to Strategic Objective 4.1 of the eHealth Strategy and Plan of Action for the Americas (2012–2017), which seeks to “promote training in information and communication technologies in universities and among health professionals”.

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