Reflections on Digital Health and Knowledge Management: The Importance of Accessing Information in Planning Digital Health Interventions
When planning our digital health implementations, we have good intentions. We seek input from stakeholders, follow the 9 Principles of Development, and carefully plan for scale. What we often fail to do is gain a thorough understanding of what has been done before and use that information to inform the planning of our own interventions. But where do we go to find this information?
Strong knowledge management practices for digital health ensure that experiences and salient lessons learned are curated, organized, and shared to inform future digital health implementation. This is especially important in a field that has grown as rapidly as digital health, and is projected to continue to flourish.
On November 30, the Knowledge for Health (K4Health) Project hosted “Tools for Digital Health Project Planning,” the first of a two-part webinar series, Digital Health’s Missing Link: Knowledge Management. The goal of the webinar was to highlight resources and repositories that already exist and house resources for us to use.
The webinar kicked off with a sneak peek of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Digital Health Atlas. Dr. Garrett Mehl talked about how this tool is intended to map digital health deployments and provide information for implementers, donors, investors, and Ministries of Health. The Atlas is intended to provide a snapshot over time for project implementers to visually see where they are in their implementation and plan their path to scale. One of the added benefits for implementers is a self-assessment functionality that allows projects to see where they fall along the Atlas’s six axes: Groundwork; Partnerships; Financial Health; Technology and Architecture; Operations; and Monitoring and Evaluation. The Atlas is helpful not only for the digital health community, but also for governments and stakeholders in country who want to coordinate and plan. The Atlas will be featured in more detail at the Global Digital Health Forum during the Tuesday, December 13 morning session, “New Resources from the World Health Organization (WHO)/Johns Hopkins University Global mHealth Initiative (GMI) Partnership.”
Next up, Sherri Haas from Management Sciences for Health (MSH) highlighted the work of the African Strategies for Health (ASH) Project, including the development of the mHealth Compendium Series as well as key technical briefs. Some of the content captured in these resources includes trends in digital health in Africa, lessons from the ASH project, briefs about digital support during the Ebola response, and more. Sherri stressed the importance of having all this information and these tools available to help situate programs in a range of digital health implementation types. The mHealth Compendium Series has a helpful database to allow users to search programs using identifying characteristics such as location, service delivery area, application type, etc. Using analytics, MSH was able to determine that since April 2015, over 1,200 unique users have visited this database. This leading database is now available on mHealth Knowledge.
The final presenter was Heidi Good Boncana from the Johns Hopkins Center for Communications Programs, who discussed the many tools available through K4Health’s mHealth Knowledge, a curated “one-stop shop” for digital health information. This includes access to leading field guides, content creation and adaptation guides, the MERA checklist (a tool built in collaboration with JHU and WHO designed to help systematize reporting on mHealth projects), the WHO Digital Health Atlas, and many more. One of the mHealth Knowledge’s many resources is K4Health’s mHealth Planning Guide, a useful “how to” guide for implementers who are starting out and scaling their digital health interventions. This guide is available in English and French—an important point for knowledge sharing, recognizing that not all implementers are Anglophone. Heidi also featured mHealth Evidence, a resource of over 8,000 records on digital health, including grey and peer-reviewed literature. It is important that we all continue to contribute to this knowledge base, especially since so much of our learning is captured in project reports, technical briefs, and white papers. As one of the co-chairs of the Global Digital Health Network, Heidi also spoke about this robust community of practice for digital health stakeholders and the many opportunities for engagement through monthly meetings, deep dives, and the upcoming Global Digital Health Forum.
My takeaway: Not only are there many tools to help digital health professionals learn about projects that have already been implemented, but these tools can be integrated for even more powerful results. For example, links to the Global Digital Health Atlas are included on mHealth Knowledge; more importantly, users looking for tools, examples, and published research now have a portal-of-portals to guide them, streamlining the research process and enabling program design that truly builds upon past experience. This is clearly a strong community and consensus on the importance of knowledge management for digital health.
Knowledge management is not just about documenting and sharing information. It also ensures that information is captured in the midst of activities—important information that may get lost or buried at the end of a project. Building on the fruitful discussion, a second webinar will take place December 7, highlighting specifically how digital health implementers use certain tools and methods to document and share knowledge throughout their projects. We’ll hear from MEASURE Evaluation, PATH, FHI 360, and IntraHealth about how they exercise strong knowledge management practices during different types of digital health implementations. I look forward to this second discussion and engaging more on this important theme at the Global Digital Health Forum outside of Washington, DC, on December 13-14, 2017.