WHO official calls for public health IT investments

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If public officials work to make technology more widely available, the world’s population will be able to reap the benefits of healthcare IT, according to Hussein Gezairy, the World Health Organization (WHO) director for the Eastern Mediterranean region, at the World of Health IT conference last week in Vienna, Austria.

"We have to work on this," Gezairy said. "Maybe it is time to declare how essential IT is to health, in the same way WHO declared certain medicines essential."

Gezairy said that the argument of how the costs of new computing could reduce the amount of money spent on relatively inexpensive lifesaving medicines is not a valid one, pointing out that the prices of vaccines have dropped precipitously the more they were used, and the same could be true of technology.

He said the bigger benefits of healthcare IT will be realized when technology is applied to public health initiatives but Gezairy was quick to point out that many challenges remain to successful IT uses. The challenges include:

  • Lack of national e-health policies, strategies, plans and legislative frameworks;
  • Use of systems is limited to nurses and clerks, not many physicians;
  • Cost of computer systems compared with cost of medicines is still prohibitive for many countries and institutions;
  • Use of IT for public health is limited at present;
  • Many populations live in rural and remote areas with little or no access to specialized healthcare; and
  • E-health projects, especially telemedicine, are initiated and managed by non-health authorities.

Gezairy stressed the need to include physicians in healthcare IT planning and deployments throughout his address to the conference. "The best way to involve doctors is to make this part of medical education," he said.