The WHO-ITU eHealth Strategy Toolkit has been identified as best practice for the development of eHealth standards and interoperability in South Africa.
The research team behind the National Health Normative Standards Framework for Interoperability in eHealth in South Africa (HNSF) used the Toolkit as a source to determine a baseline for establishing the concepts behind the HNSF.
The Toolkit was initially developed through the collaboration of WHO and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in 2012 as a response to the rapidly increasing importance of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in healthcare services.
The Toolkit offers a foundation and methodology for the development and implementation of a national eHealth vision, plan and monitoring framework. The significance of the Toolkit is that all countries, whatever their level of development and level of eHealth maturity, can adapt the Toolkit to suit their own circumstances.
The Toolkit emphasises the importance of government collaboration with stakeholders to understand their views and gain collaboration, support and endorsement for the outcomes of the eHealth planning process.
The Toolkit outlines the three maturity levels of a country in terms of eHealth: experimentation and early adoption, developing and building up, and scaling up and mainstreaming. Based on this, the HNSF identified South Africa as currently residing between stages one and two; as a result the HNSF only addresses the interoperability and adoption of standards.
The HNSF identified that the Toolkit’s national eHealth environment, which is made up of various enabling and ICT components, aligns closely with the 10 priorities of the eHealth Strategy South African 2012-2016, which interestingly enough was drafted before the Toolkit. The priorities include leadership, governance and multi-sector engagement, strategy and investment, legislation, policy and compliance, workforce, standards and interoperability, infrastructure, and services and applications.
The Toolkit is essentially a step-by-step guide that aims to help governments develop their own eHealth strategy, tailored to their own national policies, resources and requirements, and to the expectations of their citizens. It allows the governments to choose, refine and develop the parts that are best for their situation, and create their own unique eHealth vision. It has therefore been identified by HNSF as an important element in developing the South African eHealth standards.