WHO Releases Findings from 'Digital Health in Europe' Survey

September 6, 2023
The recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO) highlights the growing impact of digitalization and provides crucial international insights into healthcare and the ICT healthcare market in Europe. Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, emphasizes that the report addresses fundamental aspects of transformation. These include the significant role of leadership in national digital healthcare management, the crucial role of Electronic Health Records (EHRs), and the emerging mobile health sector. It also underscores the power of big data and data analysis in healthcare while not forgetting the essential debate on privacy.

Case studies in various countries

The report includes several case studies from different European countries, highlighting the diversity of digital health initiatives globally. The approach to digital transformation varies from country to country, with some clearly more advanced in digitalization than others. WHO calls for bridging these differences. Digital health has experienced rapid growth in recent years, offering opportunities to achieve a more universal healthcare coverage and to make healthcare more efficient, accessible, and effective. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need for digital transformation in healthcare, while also revealing the diversity in the digital capabilities of countries.

Digital health in Europe

The report is based on data collected through the survey on digital health in the WHO European Region in 2022. It emphasizes the progress made but also points out areas where improvements are needed. It identifies policy options, facilitators, and barriers to promote the successful implementation of digital health in member states. A notable aspect is the focus on the mobile health sector, also known as mHealth. This growing domain offers clear opportunities for innovative healthcare applications, especially in developing countries. During the G20 summit in India in August 2023, WHO announced a global initiative for digital healthcare called the Global Initiative on Digital Health (GIDH). The goal is to accelerate the implementation of the 'Global Strategy for Digital Health 2020-2025,' with support from G20 countries and partners.

Intersectoral policy

The new report on the state of digital health in Europe emphasizes the importance of effective governance of digital healthcare systems and encourages the establishment and expansion of national bodies for digital healthcare management. WHO urges member states to develop intersectoral policies focused on shared commitment, universal relevance, and the achievement of health goals. Furthermore, it highlights that digital health technologies are vital in preparing for public health emergencies. The report emphasizes the need for guidelines for evaluating digital health interventions and the importance of creating a strong evidence base. Digital skills, both for healthcare providers and the general public, are considered essential and should be integrated into national health objectives. Bridging the digital divide is crucial to ensure that no one is left behind. Legislation regarding EHRs is also critical in this regard. Therefore, member states are encouraged to integrate local and regional EHR systems with national systems and to invest sustainably in their development and maintenance.

Inclusive and resilient healthcare

The report explicitly addresses the role of mobile apps (mApps) in digital therapies and healthcare, while also advocating for regulation and oversight to ensure quality. It recognizes the importance of a national digital strategy for leveraging big data and advanced data analysis, with an emphasis on data format standardization and norms. In conclusion, WHO calls on member states to continue the journey toward digital health transformation and states that "this is the moment to seize the opportunities of digital health for a future of improved, inclusive, and resilient healthcare."