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Empowering the workforce to deliver on digital health

Apr 29, 2019 - reading time 4-5 mins

By Patricia Mechael

Co-founder and Policy Lead at HealthEnabled on behalf of the Global Digital Health Index

 

Patty has a 20-year track record in global health thought leadership in personal connected and digital health, both globally and domestically.

At the Personal Connected Health Alliance (PCHAlliance), a non-profit organization formed by HIMSS, Patty's work is focused on collaborating with industry, healthcare, public policy, research and advocacy groups to convene the global personal connected health community, and to accelerate the technical, business, policy and social initiatives necessary to advance the field. PCHAlliance convenes the global personal connected health community at the annual Connected Health Conference, and publishes and promotes adoption of the Continua Design Guidelines, recognized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as the international standard for safe, secure, and reliable exchange of data to and from personal health devices.

She also serves as Principal and Policy Lead for HealthEnabled, where she has led the organization’s global thought leadership and advocacy, research and policy work in Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda, and efforts to create a Global Digital Health Index. Prior to co-founding HealthEnabled, she served as Executive Director of the mHealth Alliance.

By Patricia MechaelRead Less
It is a given that technology in healthcare will only increase and evolve to support health and wellbeing in the future. And as both financial and human resources become increasingly strained, too often health systems are merely training people to get the job done, rather than building the digital literacy and capabilities in their workforces that will enable change. It is therefore vital that we equip health professionals with both the knowledge and information they need to engage effectively with these tools now. 

When it comes to digital health, a simple lack of staff understanding is one of the largest roadblocks to connected care adoption. According to Philips’ Future Health Index (FHI) data, for example, just 47% of healthcare professionals claim to be knowledgeable about connected care technology – a figure that drops to 42% for individuals with 20 or more years’ experience. One of the 2018 FHI’s recommendations is that the likes of AI tools and digital health records must be better integrated into healthcare professionals’ training, both at medical school and on the job. However, we are a long way from realizing this goal. 
 

The FHI’s findings and recommendations are reinforced by the Global Digital Health Index (GDHI)’s inaugural State of Digital Health Report 2019, which provides an overview of the state of digital health in 22 countries. No country participating in the GDHI has reached maturity level five (the highest) for the workforce category – and of the 22 countries the report studied, none of them have universal pre-service training for healthcare professionals on implementing technology in their work. 

Building grand plans 

Turning this situation around requires vision. We’ve not done enough thinking about what the optimal digitally literate and capable health professional of 2040 will look like – what the core competencies of the future doctor will need to be and what training will have to be implemented to achieve that. 

 

Currently, younger healthcare professionals are not necessarily being trained and prepared for that 30 or 40-year work span. This means health systems are always playing catch-up and having to invest much more on in-service training, which is inefficient. Many medical students are graduating with a limited idea of the potential impact of technology, as well as how they should be adopting and applying new tools and innovations throughout their careers and health practice. 

 

The answer lies partly in greater collaboration between ministries of health, which may be moving ahead with technology implementation, and ministries of education, which may not be aware of the new skills and competencies that are needed in this space. These two need to work more closely together, mapping the workforce against the roles it’s going to have to perform and the technologies it will have available. Then, it’ll be a case of working backwards and understanding the gap between what the workforce is currently being trained in and what it will need to learn to perform well in a more technologically advanced and integrated health system. 

The answer lies partly in greater collaboration between ministries of health, which may be moving ahead with technology implementation, and ministries of education, which may not be aware of the new skills and competencies that are needed in this space.

Patricia Mechael

Co-founder and Policy Lead at HealthEnabled on behalf of the Global Digital Health Index

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Attitudes and understanding

Getting pre-service training right will undoubtedly help health professionals become more open to innovation and overcome some of the misconceptions and misunderstandings that the workforce still has of technology – the most common of which being that it is inevitably going to replace physicians. 

 

In reality, apart from a handful of specializations, we may see shifts in role, rather than replacements. And our health systems are going to need different types of specialists that better integrate data and technology into medical and public health practice to provide the best quality of care in smarter ways. 

Take radiology, for example. AI can process images faster and more accurately than a human physician, but the use of this technology necessitates more specialist radiologists who can manage computer-based systems and perform higher-value tasks that AI cannot and may never support. 

 

Health professionals generally want more information about technology – they want to understand the lay of the land and how technology is going to be able to help them improve factors like quality of care, access and efficiency. But at the moment a lack of understanding and a lack of vision when it comes to training is holding them – and all of us – back. 

 

The transformative potential of digital health is an opportunity that simply cannot be missed. Our biggest challenges, from managing aging populations to providing care at home for those with chronic conditions, have digital at their core, but they need trained professionals that know how to use these technologies and integrate them into the way they provide care. 

 

Without a well-trained and knowledgeable workforce, we will not be able to realize the potential of digital health and connected care technology. The need for change has never been more urgent – it must begin now.

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