Information and communication technology (ICT) have transformed our lives in education, banking, leisure, and human relationships. Globalisation is today one of the most important processes taking place all over the world influencing all facets of our contemporary life. The present globalisation is both accelerating and increasing in scope and its penetration of our daily lives is reaching all corners of the world. Globalisation is about the transformation of traditional systems, it is about innovations and competition in a global market, at intensified pace, facilitated very significantly by or through the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).
These developments have brought opportunities for enhancing the quality of life by increasing access of medical knowledge and state of the art medical interventions to health workers. Technology has increased the potential for improving access to care by underserved populations and point the way to a future when distance will no longer impede care.
ICTs have clearly made an impact on health care in ways as;
- improved dissemination of public health information and facilitated public discourse and dialogue around major public health threats
- enabled remote consultation, diagnosis and treatment through telemedicine
- facilitated collaboration and cooperation among health workers, including sharing of learning and training approaches
- supported more effective health research and the dissemination and access to research findings
- strengthened the ability to monitor the incidence of public health threats and respond in a more timely and effective manner and
- improved the efficiency of administrative systems in health care facilities.
The complexity of choices of technologies, as well as the needs and demands of health systems suggests that the best way forward is to gradually introduce, test, and refine new technologies in those areas of health care where there is a reasonable expectation that ICTs can be effectively and efficiently used. Some innovative leaps may also be possible as technology is evolving rapidly. In Peru, Egypt and Uganda, effective use of ICTs has prevented avoidable maternal deaths. In South Africa, the use of mobile phones has enabled tuberculosis patients to receive timely reminders to take their medication. In Cambodia, Rwanda, South Africa, and Nicaragua, multimedia communication programs are increasing awareness of how community responses to HIV and AIDS can be strengthened. In Bangladesh and India, global satellite technology is helping to track outbreaks of epidemics and ensure that effective prevention and treatment methods can reach people in time.
According to WHO (2004), ICT form the backbone of the vast array of technologies that may be of use to prevent, diagnose, and treat illness and disease. The presence of computers in the examination room has already transformed the traditional patient–doctor relationship from dyadic to triadic. It is now an interaction between the patient, the doctor and the computer.
There has been considerable international discussion about the potential of ICTs to make major impacts in improving the health and wellbeing of poor and marginalized populations, combating poverty, and encouraging sustainable development and governance. Used effectively ICTs have enormous potential as tools to increase information flows and the dissemination of evidence-based knowledge, and to empower citizens. However, despite all their potential, ICTs have not been widely used as tools to advance equitable health care access.
The 21st Century is the climax of revolution and many developing countries have embarked on strategies to utilize ICT in generating and communication of data from one level to another and many of these countries have managed to modernize the Health Management Information System (HMIS) only at the higher levels (national and provincial) because they do not possess technological, political and legal infrastructure to adequately respond to and manage ICT revolution for their benefit. The poor communication infrastructure in these countries has undermined efforts to spread the technology to the rural areas where majority of the people resides. Many of the approaches being used are still at a relatively new stage of implementation, with insufficient studies to establish their relevance, applicability or cost effectiveness. This makes it difficult for governments of developing countries to determine their investment priorities and experience demonstrates that there is no single solution that will work in all settings.
ICTs have the potential to make a major contribution to improving access and quality of services while containing costs. The health sector has always relied on technologies and ICTs are central to reorganizing clinical care to face the new challenges of chronic disease management, allowing greater integration between primary and secondary care, and between health and social care. Electronic health records provide hope for improved reporting and assessment of clinical quality in the future. Adoption of ICT is a key strategy to meet the challenges facing health systems internationally of increasing demands, rising costs, limited resources and workforce shortages.
Healthcare organizations are complex and approaches to ICT implementation used in other industries have had limited success in the health sector. This is due in part to the sector’s unique organizational and workforce characteristics. Work is highly specialized and work processes non-linear, safe and effective work is dependent upon horizontal work co-ordination thus effective inter-professional and organizational communication is vital and the use of appropriate technologies can increase the quality and the reach of both information and communication. Increased information helps improves health, at the same time, social organizations help people achieve health through health care systems and public health processes. The ability of impoverished communities to access services and engage with and demand a health sector that responds to their priorities and needs is influenced by wider information and communication processes mediated by ICTs
It is recognized that the benefits of ICT will not be realized without considerable changes in work processes and structures. The World Bank (2003) argues that there is growing evidence of the ability of ICTs to provide new and more efficient methods of production, bring previously unattainable markets within the reach of the poor, improve the delivery of government services and facilitate management and transfer of knowledge. Meanwhile, the progress in the field of ICT has allowed the development of a wide array of platforms and technological applications oriented towards assisting and supporting the healthcare field and these technological advances enable the systematization, dissemination and socialization of information with the aim of providing timely and effective attention, monitoring and tracking, as they can eliminate accessibility barriers and high costs.
Article by: Blessing Bassey