Digital technologies for key public health functions: results of an ECDC expert consultation - May/June 2021

Technical report
Cite:

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Digital technologies for key public health functions – Results of an ECDC expert consultation, May/June 2021. Stockholm: ECDC; 2021.

In 2019, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) initiated a project to assess the possible impact of technical advances on its key functions. The results of the project will serve as a source of information for ECDC and its main stakeholders in deciding how to prepare for, and possibly benefit from, technological advances to further improve communicable disease surveillance, prevention and control.

Executive summary

  • The digital transformation of healthcare, health services, and health systems remains high on the agenda of policy-makers and is receiving increased funding. This creates an opportunity for those involved in public health activities to define how this area can benefit from investment into wider digital health systems.
  • The field of Digital Public Health (DPH) has gained in visibility since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As with the digital transformation of healthcare, investment in digital technologies in public health first requires that we identify public health practices that can be improved or complemented through the adoption of digital technologies and related participatory and evaluation practices.
  • Investments in digital technologies in public health should be based on two perspectives: how an organisation practices DPH through public health functions (function-based perspective), and how it fosters DPH, standards, and governance in the broader DPH ecosystem (digital health perspective).
  • Public health impact is reflected in health outcomes specific to each country, so investment in digital technologies for public health must combine digital technology standards and use cases with local contexts and involve health professionals, patients, communities, and the public, as needed.

In a series of workshops held to discuss digital technologies for key public health functions, workshop
participants emphasised the following points:

  • The design and adoption of digital technologies in public health must focus on ultimately achieving and demonstrating public health impact.
  • The application of digital technologies to deliver key public health functions requires a holistic approach, taking into account factors that determine successful adoption.
  • Standardisation and interoperability are prerequisites for the effective sharing of data and to deal with systems-level issues related to infrastructure, technologies, and terminology.
  • Data strategy (and governance) are important enablers to reap the benefits from using different types of data sources, under different data-sharing licenses and analytical needs.
  • Digital and analytics skills building can help develop multidisciplinary teams that work together to address public health problems and questions.
  • Participatory engagement in co-design, implementation and use of DPH tools and insight is key to building trust in the digital tools and health information exchange.
  • Multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral collaboration and partnerships are key to building holistic and integrated public health solutions.
  • The need for robust and widespread monitoring and evaluation of DPH interventions was highlighted as a key component when discussing digital technologies in the context of delivering key public health functions.

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The objective of this scoping review is to obtain an estimate of the size and nature of the scientific literature available on digital technologies with the potential to benefit or disrupt key public health functions, focusing on infectious disease surveillance, prevention and control.