Years ago, yours truly was struggling with a major life decision, one that had led to many a sleepless night: Where to go to grad school? I’d been accepted into a number of programs and was agonizing over my options. My dad had graciously taken on the role of my sounding board until one day he blurted out in frustration, “you have an embarrassment of riches, Rachel. Just decide!”
Digital Health’s Opportunity
It’s a perfectly weird and wonderful phrase, don’t you think? An “embarrassment of riches.” It popped into my brain at last week’s meeting of the Digital Health & Interoperability (DG&I) Working Group. There I was, sitting in a room of folks from USAID, PATH, CDC, WHO, JSI, various ministries of health—a veritable smorgasbord of digital excellence—all of whom were saying virtually the same thing: We have an embarrassment of riches in digital health. An exciting trove of interventions that is having the unintended effect of paralyzing governments and others looking to harness the power of digital to overcome gaps in health services and achieve much needed positive health outcomes.
Image from Pixabay
This comes as no surprise, really. There were 325,000 mobile health apps available at the end of 2017, and the global mHealth app market is expected to reach US$102.3 billion in 2023. There IS an app for that, I guarantee it.
It is wonderful we’ve come so far in digital. But what I’m hearing in these working group meetings is this: Which digital tools are best to address my country’s unique needs? How do I choose the right ones? How do I make them work together? How do I ask the right questions of aid to maintain ownership of this process? No more toolkits!
Those are all fair questions and comments. The irony is, “there’s a tool for that…” well, there are actually several tools that can help stakeholders answer these questions.
My colleagues at the WHO have developed the Digital Health Atlas, a technology register for tracking digital health deployments both locally and globally with the goal of strengthening their value and impact. This pairs quite well with HealthEnabled, the Global Development Incubator, and Global Digital Index, which supports countries in their efforts to measure and monitor investments in digital health over time.
In light of the incredible advancements we’ve made in the digital health space, our responsibility now is to ensure that what we’re putting into the ecosystem isn’t duplicative, is interoperable with other systems, and is owned by governments. This is where our field is trending and this is where our investments should go, lest we forget that too much of a good thing—an embarrassment of riches—can still be too much if not wielded with purpose and evaluation.