Strengthening delivery of health services using digital devices

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Background: Delivery of high-quality efficient health services is a cornerstone of the global agenda to achieve universal health coverage. According to the World Health Organization, health service delivery is considered good when equitable access to a comprehensive range of high-quality health services is ensured within an integrated and person-centered continuum of care. However, good health service delivery can be challenging in low-resource settings. In this review, we summarize and discuss key advances in health service delivery, particularly in the context of using digital health strategies for mitigating human resource constraints. Methods: The review updates the foundational systematic review conducted by Agarwal et al. in 2015. We used PubMed, EMBASE, and CINAHL to find relevant English-language peer-reviewed articles published 2018. Our search strategy for MEDLINE was based on MeSH (medical subject headings) terms and text words of key articles that we identified a priori. Our search identified 92 articles. After screening, we selected 24 articles for abstract review, of which only 6 met the eligibility criteria and were ultimately included in this review. Results: Despite encouraging advances in the evidence base on digital strategies for health service delivery, the current body of evidence is still quite limited in 3 main areas: the effectiveness of interventions on health outcomes, improvement in health system efficiencies for service delivery, and the human capacity required to implement and support digital health strategies at scale. Two particular areas, digital health-enhanced referral coordination and mobile clinical decision support systems, demonstrate considerable potential to improve the quality and comprehensiveness of care received by patients, but they require a greater level of standardization and an expanded scope of health worker engagement across the health system in order to scale them up effectively. Conclusions: Additional research is urgently needed to inform the effectiveness of interventions on health outcomes, improvement in health system efficiencies, and cost-effectiveness of service delivery. In particular, more documentation and research on ways to standardize and engage health workers in digital referral and clinical decision support systems can provide the foundation needed to scale these promising approaches in low- and middle-income settings.




Orton, M., Agarwal, S., Muhoza, P., Vasudevan, L., & Vu, A. (2018). Strengthening delivery of health services using digital devices. Global Health Science and Practice, 6, S61–S71.

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