Special issue of the Pan American Journal of Public Health spotlights efforts ranging from tele-epidemiology to apps for teens with lupus
Washington, D.C., 12 August 2014 (PAHO/WHO) – New eHealth initiatives are springing up in countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, in parallel with the increasing use of new information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the region. These initiatives have the potential to improve access to and quality of health care, yet few countries have policies in place to guide their development or exploit their full potential.

These are among the findings presented in the current issue of the Pan American Journal of Public Health (PAJPH), the peer-reviewed, open-access scientific journal of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO). Devoted entirely to eHealth, the special issue highlights the wide range of efforts currently under way in the region and presents emerging evidence about key factors that determine their success.   

“Wisely used and widely applied, eHealth can be a strategic tool for improving access, expanding coverage, and increasing the financial efficiency of health care systems,” PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne writes in an editorial introducing the special issue. “ICTs are already revolutionizing access to quality comprehensive care, bridging many difficulties and enabling primary care to resolve more health issues.”

Among the examples of eHealth initiatives highlighted and analyzed in the special issue are:

  • A telemedicine network in Bolivia’s altiplano that has improved access to specialized medical care in remote health centers through the use of teleconsultations and tele-education.
  • The Telehealth Network of Minas Gerais, Brazil, which allows health personnel to perform teleconsultations and telediagnosis, overcoming physical barriers in access to health care and promoting continuing health education.
  • A Moodle-based virtual education platform that proved more effective than a traditional classroom setting for hospital residents specializing in medical and surgical emergencies.
  • The use of social networks by people with chronic kidney disease, their caregivers, and family members as a support mechanism and to be better informed about the disease, health services, and other patients’ experiences.
  • A mobile app for by teens suffering from lupus, which was developed through a workshop in which potential users were the main participants.
  • A Web-based self-help intervention for depression that users considered helpful for identifying and transforming negative thoughts.
  • Electronic immunization registries (EIRs), which are being used by a growing number of countries to monitor vaccination coverage and for automated recall/reminders for target populations.

An original research article in the special issue examines which countries have developed policies to guide and encourage eHealth initiatives. The authors find that only seven countries in the region have adopted national policies on eHealth, although 19 countries have general policies on ICTs. The authors conclude that “governments need to explore various ways to raise awareness about existing and planned eHealth policies, not only to facilitate ease of use and communication with their stakeholders, but also to promote collaborative international efforts.”

The PAJPH is an open-access journal and may be downloaded in full text from: www.paho.org/journal.

PAHO works with its member countries to improve the health and quality of life of the people of the Americas. Founded in 1902, PAHO is the oldest international public health organization in the world. It serves as the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for the Americas and as the inter-American system’s specialized agency in health.