Countries in the European Region adopt first-ever digital health action plan

Health ministers and delegates from WHO/Europe’s 53 Member States have adopted the Region’s first-ever digital health action plan – an ambitious program that will leverage digital transformation in Europe and Asia center with the aim of improving the health and well-being of populations.

Meeting on 12 September 2022 at the 72nd session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe, ministers and delegates endorsed a resolution recognizing the critical role and potential of digital tools in the health sector, and building on lessons learned over almost 3 years of the covid19 pandemic.

Digital health is one of the 4 key areas of the WHO European Program of Work 2020-2025 (EPW) – “United Action for Better Health in Europe”. The new action plan is a concrete step towards realizing the EPW by leveraging digital tools to advance universal health coverage, protect people from health emergencies and promote health and well-being in the Region .

“Digital health should be seen as a catalyst for achieving health goals, not as the solution in itself to health problems or needs,” explained Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe. “To be meaningful and truly promote better health, digital tools need good governance, appropriate legislation, and policies that promote the healthy use of these tools while providing the people who use them – agents of health and patients – the training and support they need to get the best out of them.

Addressing healthcare challenges using digital tools

The wider adoption of digital tools for health has real potential to help governments and people in the Region as they continue to work to address existing health challenges, including those brought about by the pandemic.

Digital health expands the concept of electronic health (eHealth) to cover areas such as:

  • telemedicine – ensuring that people can access health services no matter where they live;
  • health data and information systems – ensuring that authorities have the information they need to develop health policies;
  • artificial intelligence and big data – helping clinicians, providers and decision-makers plan or implement interventions; and
  • countering the online infodemic – helping people trust high-quality health information.

The newly adopted action plan was developed following consultations with partners and the 53 countries of the Region. It takes into consideration countries’ priorities in these and other areas, as well as their needs and challenges, including issues of access to digital health services among vulnerable groups.

Putting patients at the center of digital solutions

For digital solutions to be truly successful, the people using them must receive the proper training and knowledge.

“WHO/Europe is here to help countries leverage the use of digital tools in an inclusive and transparent way, while protecting people’s privacy and specific needs,” said Dr Natasha Azzopardi-Muscat , Director of the Division of Country Health Policies and Systems at WHO/Europe.

Dr Azzopardi-Muscat continued: “The digital literacy of all users should be a key part of any successful digital health strategy. Together with governments in our Region, we will work on solutions that put the needs of patients and health workers at the centre. »

The plan encourages countries to prioritize the promotion of digital health literacy to help achieve national health goals, improve health system performance, and guide future digital health investments and transformation. It proposes that they do so by recognizing the needs of citizens and health workers while promoting an integrated care approach that institutionalizes digital health in the Region.

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