Reference : Achieving Universal Health Coverage: Technology for innovative primary health care ed...
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Achieving Universal Health Coverage: Technology for innovative primary health care education
Lygidakis, Charilaos mailto [University of Luxembourg > Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education (FLSHASE) > Integrative Research Unit: Social and Individual Development (INSIDE) >]
McLoughlin, Clodagh [iheed]
Patel, Kunal [iheed]
World Organization of Family Doctors (WONCA), iheed
[en] primary health care ; information science ; medical education ; medical informatics ; universal health coverage ; sustainable development ; public health ; sustainable development goals ; health policy
[en] The challenges to achieving universal health coverage (UHC) are obvious yet vast in their scope: leading these is a lack of strong primary health care (PHC) systems and a global shortage of well-trained health care professionals. Addressing these challenges is paramount, as it is well-trained health care professionals who will build the strong PHC systems that are necessary for UHC. Due to the continuing spread and evolution of information and communications technology (ICT) in health care and education, ICT should be considered as an essential tool for innovative primary health care education. 

Many nations face a distinct lack of UHC, grossly unequal health services and an acute shortage of suitably qualified family doctors, nurses and allied health care professionals that constitute the primary health care team. It is estimated that by 2035, the world will have a shortage of 12.9 million health care professionals, however an additional 1.9 billion people will require health care. Recruiting, educating and retaining these primary health care teams is therefore fundamental to meet ongoing demands. 

Family doctors contribute to high quality, cost-effective and accessible primary health care. However, PHC faces considerable challenges, including a preference from policymakers, the public, and members of the health care community for specialisation. Specialist-focused care may be attractive, but it is often economically unsustainable and absorbs resources that are necessary for PHC. Yet, cooperation between primary and secondary care is essential for delivering the best care to patients and communities. It should not be a matter of choosing between primary and secondary care, but rather of recognising and adequately supporting the unique attributes and skillsets that each has to offer. 

Family medicine lies at the heart of primary health care. The key to producing skilled family doctors is good family medicine training, particularly at a postgraduate level. There is great potential to improve the scale and quality of family medicine training, starting with exposure to the field as early as possible. For the delivery of primary care to be effective – and lead to the achievement of universal health coverage – the composition of the primary care team should reflect the demography and health needs of the local population. Thus, the composition of the primary care team will differ from location to location, depending on the age/sex/ health needs of the local population. Family doctors and all of the PHC professionals should have a set of universal core skills, in addition to skills specific to the population and geography they serve. To provide effective care, health professionals need to understand the importance of social factors in influencing population health; therefore, training curricula must be adapted to local contexts 
Career development through postgraduate training strongly motivates health professionals to stay in their own localities, as well as being vital for patient safety and improved outcomes. Yet, despite a thirst for postgraduate training among family doctors and other primary health care professionals, it is often difficult to access. ICT may be used to address recruitment and retention issues by providing easily accessible and good quality education. 

This report examines a key question: Can ICT facilitate the education of PHC professionals worldwide in order to address the challenges facing PHC and UHC? Through in-depth literature reviews, analysis, and targeted interviews with key experts, the report concludes that ICT can indeed support, enhance and accelerate the education of the primary health care team’s members, in six key ways: 

1. It is an effective means of developing workforce capacity. By overcoming geographical barriers and supplementing traditional instruction with online delivery from international and regional tutors, ICT can substantially increase health care professionals’ access to postgraduate education without the need for travel, thus helping to avoid disruption to healthcare delivery. 
2. It helps to recruit and retain professionals. E-learning overcomes issues of access and isolation, and can be done flexibly to suit the learner. By providing access to specialist support, postgraduate courses and mentoring opportunities, e-learning and telehealth encourage in-country and rural retention of health care workers. 
3. It is cost-saving. Traditional models of health professional education are expensive, both for the provider and for health care professionals. Developing ICT solutions may entail high initial costs but these are reduced over time, and with more users, achieve economies of scale. 
4. It facilitates social and collaborative learning which has been shown to have the greatest impact on patient outcomes. A blend of synchronous and asynchronous e-learning is likely to be the most effective way of achieving interprofessional learning. Communities of practice are encouraged using ICT and social media, reducing professional isolation and improving collaboration. 
5. It can help to bring contextualised care to where it is needed. For example, simulation-based medical education enables problem-based, interactive and contextualised learning. End-user (including patient) participation is paramount when designing ICT-based educational programmes. 
6. It improves the quality of care by facilitating access to evidence-based medicine and reflective learning. Email alerts can support education by reaching a large audience and providing trustworthy information tailored to individual needs; social media can aid in streamlining vast amounts of information into a small number of tailored-to-the-individual articles; blogs and electronic portfolios can encourage reflective life-long learning.

Capturing these opportunities will require stakeholders to consider the following: 
a) Securing political and financial support to establish and maintain strong PHC systems 
b) Adopting a collaborative interprofessional approach between health professionals, from medical school through to the workplace 
c) Providing education and training relevant to the context and to user needs 
d) Improving recruitment and retention through training 
e) Encouraging the standardisation and accreditation of health professional education 
f) Investing in ICT training for learners, educators and patients 
g) Planning and developing programmes that use technology meaningfully to improve care quality, cost-effectiveness, accessibility, equity and patient safety 
h) Recognise and consolidate the interdependence of all the health professionals in the PHC setting. 
Hewlett-Packard, iheed
Researchers ; Professionals ; Students ; Others

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