Experts call for national eHealth strategy

Improved access to health info key to reducing healthcare costs.


Our Correspondent January 22, 2012

LAHORE:


Experts have called for a fundamental shift in the way information is accessed and shared across the health system in Pakistan.


“The health system in Pakistan is straining to deal with increasing cost and demand pressures and a shortage of skilled healthcare workers. We have to move away from a reliance on tools such as pen, paper and human memory to an environment where patients, care providers and healthcare managers can reliably access and share health information in real time across geographic and health sector boundaries. The only way this can be achieved is through formulation and implementation of a world class eHealth policy.”

These views were expressed by health experts at the third International eHealth Conference, which started here at the University of Health Sciences (UHS) on Saturday. The two-day conference has been organised by the eHealth Association of Pakistan and aims to identify and prioritise areas of development in Pakistan that could lead to the formation of a national eHealth strategy. eHealth refers to the use of information and communication technologies in healthcare services.

Around 400 participants including medical students, IT experts, health providers, policy makers and international experts on eHealth from Canada, United States, Britain. Switzerland, Spain, East Africa, Nepal, Philippines and Afghanistan are participating in the conference, which was dedicated to Arfa Karim Randhawa, the IT prodigy who recently died at age 16.

Speaking at the inaugural ceremony, Punjab Education Minister Mian Mujtaba Shujaur Rehman said the government was taking all measures necessary for the administration, promotion, development and use of information technology in the province.

“The Punjab government is providing free laptops to 100,000 brilliant students currently studying at public sector colleges and universities as a part of the Chief Minster’s e-Youth Initiative. Moreover, computer labs have been established in all high schools of the province,” he said.

Rehman said that eHealth technology could play a crucial role in controlling epidemics such as polio and dengue fever through effective surveillance. He said the government encouraged all initiatives which helped eradicate disease and improve healthcare facilities.

UHS Vice Chancellor Prof Malik Hussain Mubashar said that better use of information technology could play a critical enabling role in implementing national healthcare reform and policy agendas and improving the efficiency, safety and sustainability of the healthcare system. He said eHealth would be made an essential part of the curricula of various professional courses at the university.

Hani Farouk, the World Health Organisation’s focal person for eHealth in the Eastern Mediterranean Region (EMRO), said that eHealth should be viewed as both the essential infrastructure underpinning information exchange between all participants in a healthcare system and as a key enabler and driver of improved health outcomes.

He said that WHO had recognised eHealth as the way to achieve cost-effective results and secure use of information and communication technologies(ICTs) for health and related fields, and urged its member states to consider drawing up long-term strategic plans for developing and implementing eHealth services and infrastructure in their health sectors.

Speaking on the occasion, eHealth Association of Pakistan (eHAP) President Dr Haroon Roedad Khan said that the conference was dedicated to Arfa Karim Randhawa to honour her exceptional prmoise in the field of information and communication technology. He said that the Arfa Karim Gold Medal would be awarded every year for the best paper on eHealth.

Dr Khan said close cooperation between healthcare and telecommunication professionals was essential to successfully prepare an indigenous eHealth strategy.

Other speakers at the conference included Dr Richard E Scott, director of Global eHealth Strategy at the University of Calgary, Canada; Dr Esther Ogara, director of eHealth at the Ministry of Health, Kenya; Nuwan Waidyanatha, senior researcher at LIRNEasia, Sri Lanka; Dr Ronald C Merrell, Emeritus Professor of Surgery at Virginia Commonwealth University, USA; Dr Zafar Iqbal Qadir, chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority; and Dr Syed Aoun Abbas, Chief Executive Officer of the IT Ministry’s National Information and Communication Technology Research and Development Fund.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 22nd, 2012.

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