The sudden emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed longstanding vulnerabilities in national health systems. After all, many countries were unprepared for virus detection, contact tracing, testing, surveillance, and vaccine roll-out. The pandemic overwhelmed health systems, which interrupted both access to and delivery of health services to populations.
During the pandemic, governments have realized the importance of digital health. Most have developed, adapted and utilized technology as a primary tool to monitor the status and mitigate the effects of COVID-19. Countries are leveraging telemedicine, developing applications to support contact tracing and information management (booking patient appointments and medicine deliveries), and integrating their existing and new health information systems.
At the 7th AeHIN GM, we learned from our participants that they experience the same persisting challenges in digital health when the COVID-19 pandemic started. Common challenges encountered in implementing digital health in our region include health workers’ and patients’ behavior towards new technologies, lack of or inadequate access to technology and internet connectivity, evolving nature of laws and regulations on digital health interventions, and funding. Among the lessons learned by countries during the pandemic were monitoring and evaluation of digital efforts to sustain best practices and strengthen areas that need improvement, collecting and sharing data on time for better decision making, working fast with worthy partners, and utilizing digital health technologies in planning the next steps, especially vaccination.