As low- and middle-income countries transition from paper to digital systems, family planning programs can benefit from unprecedented opportunities to improve services. Investments in digital health tools have expanded exponentially, but information on what works—and what does not— remains limited and scattered. As investments have increased, digital applications and data fragmentation have proliferated, but stakeholders are moving towards more coordinated efforts to scale digital health solutions, support countries’ digital health infrastructure, and share evidence-based learnings.
This Digital Health Compendium enables users to explore case studies across a range of digital health technologies used to enhance family planning programs mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, but also in other regions of the world. Digital health applications in family planning programs can be broadly classified as those affecting demand generation, service delivery, supply chain management, and the policy and enabling environment. In many low- and middle-income countries, digital health innovations were adopted earlier in other health sectors, including HIV/AIDS, maternal and child health, and noncommunicable disease prevention and response. As a result, much of the impact evidence is likewise restricted to those sectors. To advance greater adoption of digital technology in family planning programs, more data and information on the challenges, opportunities, scalability, and results are needed. This compendium aims to consolidate emerging information and data on applications of digital technology in family planning programs to inform adoption and scale-up of successful approaches.
All of the case studies were submitted by the implementing organizations and include a description of the digital health intervention, program context, and, if available, important findings and lessons learned through rigorous evaluations or program data. The compendium facilitates a quick search for case studies based on the target user for digital health intervention, building block for the digital health enabling environment, family planning program classification, and country location. The case studies give policy and program decisionmakers insights on real-world applications of digital health, promising practices, challenges, and other lessons that can be applied to current and future programs.
Digital health is an umbrella term that encompasses an array of information and communications technologies used in health care, including mobile health (mHealth), telehealth/telemedicine, eHealth, health information technology (IT), health management information systems, use of blockchain technology, and artificial intelligence. These digital health technologies can support individuals, health providers, and health systems managers to make informed decisions and engage individuals to improve demand, access, coverage, quality, and affordability of health care for everyone.
Digital health interventions can be used for a wide variety of purposes. The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies digital health interventions based on four categories of intended users: clients, including current and future users of health services and their caregivers; health care providers; health system or resource managers; and data services, or service providers that help manage data for users. Examples of the activities under each target user category include:
Learn more about WHO’s Classification of Digital Health Interventions and Draft Global Health Strategy on Digital Health 2020-2024.
Building an environment that promotes widespread use of digital health technologies is critical to the success of investments in digital health. The digital health enabling environment consists of interrelated building blocks that support a robust national digital health ecosystem and the individual applications and systems that work within it. To help countries adopt, employ, and scale up use of these technologies, WHO and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) developed the National eHealth Strategy Toolkit to provide a standard framework and best practices for building a strong enabling environment. The building blocks for this enabling environment include:
When these building blocks are addressed in a coordinated way, they improve health system performance and outcomes, as well as influence the scalability of digital health interventions to strengthen family planning and reproductive health programs. Stakeholders are working to better understand countries digital health enabling environments and align digital health investments to address a clear set of requirements and use cases(s) to move towards more sustainable and scalable systems.
To assess their digital health enabling environment and monitor progress towards implementing digital solutions at scale, countries can use the interactive Digital Health Index. This tool can help decisionmakers address the policy environment for digital health and make informed decisions about resource allocation.
Few countries have robust policies or strategies in place to be able to take full advantage of the benefits of digital health. The success of digital health in a country also requires relevant government agencies across multiple sectors to collaborate, including health, information and communications technology (ICT), economic, science, innovation, and data privacy and protection agencies. Governments, development partners, and other stakeholders must coordinate investments in the digital health enabling environment to reduce fragmentation of digital health technologies and ensure that different ICT platforms and applications can connect and exchange health information with each other. While this may seem like a daunting challenge, emerging country lessons and successes are paving the way for stronger country digital health enabling environments. Examples of how countries are addressing the digital health enabling environment include:
The U.S. Agency for International Development’s Digital Health Vision presents a roadmap for how USAID can support its partner countries as they strengthen the digital transformation of their health sectors, by encouraging strategic planning, strong governance, interoperability of data and digital systems and a data use culture to enable long-term sustainability. It calls for the Agency and its partners to support four strategic priorities:
Through mechanisms, such as, Digital Square, Data.FI and the Country Health Information Systems Data Use (CHISU), USAID is supporting these strategic priorities to bolster low and middle-income countries digital health enabling environments.