Leveraging Information Technology To Bridge The Health Workforce Gap

Robert Bollinger,a Larry Chang,a Reza Jafari,b Thomas O’Callaghan,c Peter Ngatia,d Dykki Settle,e Jane McKenzie-White,a Kunal Patel,c Amir Dossalf & Najeeb Al Shorbajig | Bulletin of the World Health Organization | November 11, 2013

According to some estimates, the world needs more than 4 million additional physicians, nurses, pharmacists, labo- ratory technicians, midwives, commu- nity health workers (CHWs) and other front-line health workers.1 However, there is also a shortage of faculty that can provide high-quality training and mentorship for current training pro- grammes2 and continuing education opportunities for health workers. The use of new information and communi- cation technologies (ICTs) can help to overcome these challenges.3,4

Recent global investments in fibre and wireless infrastructure, as well as innovations in e-learning, electronic health (eHealth) and mobile health (mHealth) and in the social media, can be leveraged to train, deploy, support and empower health workers.4–8 The International Telecommunication Union estimates that, in only four years (2007–2011), mobile broadband subscriptions in the developing world increased by more than tenfold: from 43 million to 458 million. Mobile devices and internet access are becoming increasingly necessary professional tools for health-care workers at all levels in developing countries. New fibre and wireless infrastructure, as well as the rapid growth of computer processing power, provide an unprecedented op- portunity to scale up health worker training and improve its quality, as well as to optimize health service delivery and strengthen health systems.

Over the past 20 years, learning management systems have contributed greatly to the tremendous expansion of e-learning. The past five years have also seen an increase in massive open online courses. eHealth technologies, including electronic medical records, laboratory and pharmacy information systems, along with disease surveillance and supply chain information systems, are transforming health care. Mobile health (mHealth), which is the practice of medicine and public health supported by mobile devices, extends these systems to the most remote and inaccessible parts of the developing world. In addition, the same mobile devices used to optimize communica- tion and support front-line health-care workers can be used to deploy multi- media training programmes and clinical decision support tools. The social media and the development of com- munities of practice have yet to be fully mobilized to support health workforce capacity building. The use of the social media by health workers has several potential benefits. Some examples are crowdsourcing of educational content, translations and localization (i.e. ad- aptation of the content to a particular region), peer-to-peer learning, joint problem solving and reflective prac- tice. In addition, ICTs can strengthen communication between providers and patients, increase community support for health worker capacity building and heighten the demand for high-quality clinical services...