May 7, 2024

Taking the Pulse of Digital Health: How We Measure Global Progress

By Ezinne Onwuekwe

As a digital health leader, I’m inspired by the potential of technology to transform healthcare. But with innovation happening at an unprecedented pace, it’s crucial to assess how far we’ve come—not just within individual countries, but globally. Then comes the crucial question, how do we gauge this progress on a global scale?

What Is Digital Health Maturity

Digital health maturity is the extent to which digital systems are leveraged for high quality healthcare. This encompasses the degree to which healthcare systems, policies, technologies, and user engagement converge to optimize healthcare delivery, enhance patient experiences, and advance overall population health.

Measuring global maturity and progress in digital health requires a holistic approach, encompassing various dimensions that reflect different aspects of advancement. Here are some key digital maturity dimensions to consider:

  1. Strategy: The extent to which the organization has developed and implemented a strategic plan to achieve its goals and objectives
  2. IT capability: The extent to which the organization has adopted and implemented IT infrastructure, digital systems, technologies, and services which are usable and effective
  3. Interoperability: The extent to which data and information can be exchanged between systems within the organization, as well as across care settings, and with patients, caregivers, and families
  4. Governance and management: The extent to which the organization embraces leadership, policies and procedures, structures, risk management (quality and safety), integrated workflows, relationship building, and capacity building
  5. Patient-centered care: The extent to which patients, caregivers and families can actively participate in their health decisions, have access to information and health data, and co-create services and service delivery
  6. People, skills and behaviours: The extent to which stakeholders (internal and external) are digitally literate and motivated to leverage technology
  7. Data analytics: The extent to which the organization uses data for effective decision making for the organization, patients, and population health

Why Does This Measurement Matter?

By tracking these dimensions, we gain valuable insights into the global digital health landscape. This data helps:

  • Identify gaps and opportunities: Knowing which regions need more infrastructure investment or training programs allows for targeted interventions.
  • Benchmark progress: Tracking improvements over time helps celebrate successes and identify areas for continued focus.
  • Inform policy and investment: Data-driven insights can guide policymakers and investors in allocating resources for maximum impact.

Frameworks in Action

Measuring the maturity and advancement of digital health across countries isn’t a simple task. We’re dealing with a complex ecosystem—a blend of infrastructure, policies, user adoption, and some cultural nuances. So, how do we navigate this complexity?

Here are some exciting efforts paving the way:

Digital Health Maturity Models: These are structured evaluations which allow healthcare organizations to document current digital state and develop roadmaps for improving patient care, health outcomes and health equity.

  1. Global Digital Health Index (GDHI) has a national focus and a framework with 7 categories: Leadership and governance; Strategy and investment; Legislation, policy and compliance; Workforce; Standards and interoperability; Infrastructure; and Services & applications.
  2. Informatics Capability Maturity Model (ICMM) has an organizational focus and a framework with 5 dimensions: Managing information; Using business intelligence; Using information technology tools; Aligning business and informatics; and Managing change.
  3. Health Information Systems Interoperability Maturity Toolkit (HISIMT) has a focus on interoperability and a framework with 3 domains: Leadership and governance; Human resources; and Technology.
  4. Health Information System Stages of Continuous Improvement Toolkit (HISSCIT)has a focus on continuous improvement and a framework with 7 categories: leadership & governance, management, ICT infrastructure, systems, data interoperability, data quality, and data use.

Standardized Indicators: Organizations like the WHO are working on standardized indicators to compare progress across countries.

Project-Level Assessments: Tools like mHealth Assessment for Planning and Scaling (MAPS) help measure individual projects’ maturity, aiding resource allocation and scaling successful initiatives.

These tools provide a standardized way to assess a country’s digital health maturity, allowing for benchmarking and identification of areas for improvement.

These efforts are a great start, but there’s still room for growth. Here’s what excites me for the future:

  • Contextualization: Developing frameworks that consider a country’s unique context to provide a more nuanced picture.
  • Focus on Equity: Ensuring digital health advancements bridge the gap in access to care, not widen it.
  • Community-Driven Data: Empowering local communities to collect data that reflects their specific needs and priorities.

By leveraging emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT), and genomics, we can unlock new possibilities for improving healthcare delivery and outcomes on a global scale. Measuring global digital health progress is a continuous journey, not a destination. By embracing innovative approaches and prioritizing equity, we can ensure that the digital revolution in healthcare benefits everyone, everywhere.

Ezinne V.C Onwuekwe is a pharmacist with industry specialization in data analytics, informatics and digital health. She is a certified project manager with a history of working on multi-million  dollar healthcare programs and partnering with international institutions to address prominent issues around healthcare data management and digitization. Ezinne is an international speaker and capacity builder committed to social change by working with organizations to create positive impacts in the digital health space. She is the founder of The VC HealthTech Hub (an online community empowering healthcare professionals in the digital age). Ms. Onwuekwe is currently a senior clinical informatics analyst at Nova Scotia Health, Canada where her current contributions are focused on provincial digital health transformation project called One Person, One Record (OPOR).

LinkedIn:  Ezinne V. C Onwuekwe, B.Pharm, PMP® | LinkedIn