Redefining ‘health’ and prioritizing health care needs
ICTs are already helping to improve healthcare in three main ways: through better information collection, transmission and distribution; through better delivery of services, especially in remote or rural areas; and through reducing operational and administrative costs. Benefits include:
Telemedicine is likely to become more widespread in the future, as video conferencing and ‘telepresence’ systems improve and more households and community health facilities have access to fast Internet networks. Hospitals and clinics are also expected to increase their use of visualization technology. This will enable consultants and surgeons to see, and even experiment on, virtual 3D images of a patient’s heart, before operating in reality, or see exactly where a brain is malfunctioning, without the need to open up the skull. There will also be a massive proliferation in machine-to-machine communications, with personal and home-based sensor devices playing an increasingly prominent role.
ITU is active in several areas related to e-health, which is defined by the World Health Organization as “the cost-effective and secure use of information and communications technologies in support of health and health-related fields, including health-care services, health surveillance, health literature, and health education, knowledge and research”. ITU advises members on e-health strategies and policies, develops guidelines, disseminates best practices on e-health applications, and assists in implementing technical cooperation projects.
ITU also participates in a number of international e-health initiatives. ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun Touré, is co-chair of the Digital He@lth Initiative, a unique multi-stakeholder collaboration between the ICT and healthcare sectors to implement the Millennium Development Goals. Dr Touré was also co-vice chair of the UN-backed Commission on Information and Accountability for Women’s and Children’s Health, which recommended in May 2011 that by 2015 all countries should be using ICTs in their national health information systems and health infrastructure. This was one of a set of recommendations in its report, Keeping Promises, Measuring Results, aimed at ensuring effective, transparent and inclusive accountability mechanisms for all stakeholders.
E-health requires appropriate regulatory, legal and policy frameworks in both the telecommunications and the health sectors. Data security and privacy are key issues in this area, so ITU recommends that wherever possible e-health networks and applications share expensive communication infrastructures with, for example, e-government or e-commerce systems that also require secure and interoperable systems.
Interoperability is also needed to ensure different national and international systems can exchange information and to reduce the cost of devices through economies of scale. Through its standardization work involving all the major players, ITU coordinates the development of a set of open global standards for e-health applications.
In helping countries make better use of ICTs for e-health, ITU is working to improve access to health services for all.
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|The 7 Billiion Actions
initiative is convened by UNFPA, the United
Nations Population Fund with support from
partners from the private and public sector.