HealthEnabled and partners are currently developing the Global Digital Health Index, an interactive digital resource to track, monitor, evaluate, and score the effective use of digital technology for health. Similar to how the Human Development Index has driven global development progress and the eGovernment Index has shaped investments in technology infrastructure, the Global Digital Health Index will harness data to improve the health of people around the world, help government officials better serve their countries, drive informed investment from funders, and guide smart private sector engagement.

Importantly, the Index will provide data on the uptake and use of information and communication technologies over time by countries, regions, and globally. These data will be invaluable for trend analysis and planning. Users of the Index will be able to create searches based on their specific information needs and retrieve their search results in graphic or tabular forms.

Why do we need an Index? 

It has been difficult for countries to bring coherence to tens of hundreds of systems and applications, mitigate the risks of large-scale investment, and bridge the “know-do gap” from policy to implementation. Thus far, investments in digital health have been piecemeal – almost like building parts of the house without the frame in place first – and the use of technology to improve health in most countries and at a global level is fragmented, unsynchronized, and duplicative.

The Index will support efforts of a variety of actors:

  • The Index will help government officials drive health progress in their countries. With national frameworks in place to monitor the effects of digital health investments and provide informed guidance as to where those investments are most needed, those investments will go further and link more effectively with global frameworks.
  • The Index will also drive progress by shining a light on positive examples – decision-makers in ministries and departments overseeing public health will be able to borrow best practices from other countries and engage the corporate sector and funding agencies effectively. 
  • The Index will help private sector leaders as well. The private sector has so far largely engaged in digital health either strictly as for-profit business or corporate social responsibility.  Companies should explore a third dimension to leverage the best of their expertise in commercial grade enterprise systems the produce social returns on investment, making it possible to transition from national to global health real-time monitoring and disease surveillance.  The Index is poised to identify and promote public and private sector financing’s advancement of social and economic returns on investment.
  • Most of all, people around the world will benefit from the Index. There is growing evidence that digital health is having a multiplier effect in improving access, increasing efficiency, measuring progress, and providing transparency and accountability. Individuals will be equipped with information to prevent disease and receive better care if healthcare providers and governments have better data.

Why do we need an Index now?

In the past five years, we have witnessed remarkable advancements in technological innovations – including mobile phones, tablets, remote patient monitoring devices, and sensors – that drive so-called “digital health” around the world. Increasingly, these innovations are also equipped with GPS and metrics that generate promising evidence of their cost-saving and, more importantly, life-saving capabilities.

The technologies alone are not enough, however. To truly harness the power of these trends, we need a Global Digital Health Index that will drive the expanded use of life-saving digital health technologies by making health systems more transparent, resilient, responsive, and better able to meet the needs of the population.

Alongside technological breakthroughs and advancements, we are also encountering cross-border, global, and ecological scourges the like the world has never seen. The 2014 Ebola crisis in West Africa is one example – the United Nations Development Program reports it was the longest, largest, deadliest, and most complex health crisis in recent history, marking the first time that the virus had been transmitted to other countries through air travel. The new global threat of the Zika virus is another one.

Both Ebola and Zika highlight the need for high-impact investments in digital health within and across countries – not just as a “nice to have,” but rather as an integral part of how you deliver and improve coverage of critical health interventions. Countries are now moving to national and multi-national scale disease surveillance, thanks largely to linked data systems.