ICT for Health

Information and communications technologies (ICTs) can play a critical role in improving health care for individuals and communities. By providing new and more efficient ways of accessing, communicating, and storing information, ICTs can help bridge the information divides that have emerged in the health sector in developing countries—between health professionals and the communities they serve and between the producers of health research and the practitioners who need it. Through the development of databases and other applications, ICTs also provide the capacity to improve health system efficiencies and prevent medical errors.

  • A physician in a remote rural hospital is initially unable to diagnose a patient with a complex array of symptoms. However, using his MEDLINE search training and the hospital’s Internet connection, he is able to diagnose and successfully treat the patient for a tropical disease the patient picked up while traveling abroad.

  • Another physician looks at her hospital’s prescription trends using the newly created electronic health record system and finds that other physicians are not using the post-surgical antibiotic that is shown to be most effective according to the current international guidelines. She speaks to the administration about advocating a switch in antibiotics that will improve patient recovery outcomes and thereby save the hospital money.

  • A neonatologist, who transmits CT-scans and other medical images by e-mail to his network of personal contacts around the world to help in diagnosing and treating premature newborns, estimates that teleconsultations have helped him to save numerous lives during the past year.

  • A young woman, too embarrassed to ask her physician about reproductive health issues and the risks of sexually transmitted infections, anonymously contacts physicians at a woman’s health clinic, where they’ve set up e-mail accounts for staff in order to support these types of physician-patient interactions

Each of these examples demonstrates how information and communications technologies (ICTs) can play a critical role in improving health care for individuals and communities. By providing new and more efficient ways of accessing, communicating, and storing information, ICTs can help bridge the information divides that have emerged in the health sector in developing countries—between health professionals and the communities they serve and between the producers of health research and the practitioners who need it. Through the development of databases and other applications, ICTs also provide the capacity to improve health system efficiencies and prevent medical errors.

ICT for health (or e-health) programs are often considered to be expensive, time-consuming, risky, and otherwise distracting from the primary focus and intent of health sector programs. In some cases these criticisms may be valid. There are, however, a wide range of low-cost and sustainable ICT for health program components that can augment capacity and improve the overall effectiveness of health development programs. These are the types of programs that HealthConnect International is specialized to help deliver.