Introduction: COVID-19 pandemic has imposed unprecedented healthcare challenges, both globally and locally. The application of digital technologies offers great value for overcoming these challenges. However, the adoption itself has not been sufficient, appropriate, or uniform. In this regard, successful digital health strategies and policies adopted during this pandemic may form the basis to form exemplars for digital health adoption in similar situations. This study aims at reviewing the above-mentioned digital health strategies and policies with a view of creating value.
Methods: A rapid literature search was done through the Research4Life of Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative (HINARI). Search terms included word combinations to capture all publications related to the current pandemic and digital health strategies from the 1st of January to the 28th of May 2020. First, abstracts were examined for relevance. All works with significant content related to digital health strategies were included for full-text screening. Finally, an in-depth scrutiny of significant works was performed.
Results: Search results included 44 abstracts with six duplicates. After initial screening, 38 were selected for full-text screening. Only 26 significantly relevant studies were selected for the final analysis. Studies revealed a variety of digital health strategies adopted by countries and healthcare facilities during COVID -19. Telecare was the most conferred strategy globally (mentioned in 14 studies), where teleconsultations were key in remote service provision. Application of mHealth (two studies), electronic medical record (one study), clinical decision support systems (one study), and social media apps (four studies) have also created great value. Clinical applications included oncologic care, ophthalmic practice, geriatric care, dermatology, psychiatry, oral and maxillofacial surgery, otolaryngology, and electrophysiology. The above was in addition to general patient care, teaching, knowledge sharing, and research. Some have questioned the practicality of the above strategies, whereas the others have cited economic disparities, technology issues, information quality, legislation, and other contextual issues. Moreover, deficiencies in digital health policies at the global level were highlighted, emphasizing the need to strengthen global readiness for digital health adoption.
Conclusion: This study summarizes strategies used by countries and health facilities to utilize the full potential of digital health applications during pandemics. The above principles may form part of mainstream policies and strategies for delivering healthcare and international corporation in similar situations. The study further highlights the need for an immediate and inclusive global dialogue in this regard.
24 Oct 2020.