Global health responses and data need integrating — now
As the world’s health systems are digitalised, we can better access the data needed to improve the response to the next, inevitable, health crisis
At the time of writing, several promising Covid-19 vaccines have been revealed. Pfizer’s candidate vaccine, in conjunction with BioNTech, has shown more than 90% effectiveness, while Moderna’s suggest 94.5% effectiveness.
While some unanswered questions remain over its effectiveness, the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine is potentially the most exciting for the African continent: contrary to other vaccine candidates that have to be stored at very low temperatures, this vaccine can be stored in a standard fridge, making it far more suitable to the hot African climate.
The outstanding work achieved by the pharmaceutical companies and medical researchers to develop the vaccine candidates should be celebrated. However, I would also pause to consider what measures we can take to ensure our global, national and local healthcare systems are prepared for the next major health crisis.
Health system ‘essential’ to global economy
The shock to the global health system has been matched by a shock to the global economy. In a new report, the UN predicts the economic fallout of the pandemic will long outlive the health crisis. The global economy is expected to contract by 4.3%, which could push an additional 130-million people into extreme poverty.
If this year has made one thing clear, though, it is that there’s no healthy economy without a healthy population. Unfortunately, the public health, early warning and alert systems needed to respond effectively to a pandemic are not where they need to be.
There is a growing understanding that the world needs a much greater level of co-ordination among stakeholders, both internationally among countries as well as among healthcare practitioners.
Prevailing siloed thinking in the global healthcare sector means responses to major health crises, such as a pandemic, are fragmented, and often not as effective as is needed in a situation like this.
Towards a more integrated healthcare sector
This fragmented approach will not serve humanity well. Disease knows no boundaries, and there is tremendous need for more effective sharing of resources, information and data, as well as better co-ordination of healthcare responses.
An effective response to a pandemic requires more than just a delivery system for health services. You need systems that maintain the integrity of information, which is even more important in this era of misinformation and conspiracy theories.
The continued digitalisation of healthcare systems, which accelerated due to the impact of the pandemic, is driving efficiency gains within health services. There is now a great need for system enhancements that help healthcare decision-makers see and track data more effectively, understand trends in the data, and use those trends to better co-ordinate healthcare responses.
Enhancing clinical intelligence
We are integrating medicine standards, treatment guides and protocols, rules and data that have been collected over the past five years in new healthcare environments to enhance clinical intelligence.
For example, our database of decision-making and checking rules can be integrated with electronic health systems, including medical record systems and pharmacy dispensing systems, to ensure everyone is working with the same, most up-to-date and accurate information.
With healthcare practitioners all using the same systems and data, it is easier to break down the silos within the sector and enable a more co-ordinated global health force that can respond quickly and at a global scale.
As the use of data-rich tools among healthcare professionals increases, we may also start discovering important insights into the digital behaviour of doctors and other medical practitioners.
This next frontier of data-driven healthcare engagement will focus on understanding healthcare practitioner decision-making online and within electronic systems. By better understanding how, when and where healthcare practitioners access medical information and what types of information is accessed, we could also be in a better position to understand what types of support our doctors need.
The global healthcare system is not ready for the next major crisis. However, with a concerted effort among stakeholders now to improve co-ordination and maintain the integrity of health-related information, the sector can start building a more integrated system that can drive better health outcomes for all the world’s citizens.
• Dr Khan is CEO at EMGuidance.
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