Current Challenges of Digital Health Interventions in Pakistan: Mixed Methods Analysis
- Abdul Momin Kazi, Saad Ahmed Qazi, Nazia Ahsan, Sadori Khawaja, Fareeha Sameen, Muhammad Saqib, Muhammad Ayub Khan Mughal, Zabin Wajidali, Sikander Ali, Rao Moueed Ahmed, Hussain Kalimuddin, Fatima Mahmood, Saad Zafar, Tufail Ahmad Abbasi, Khalil-Ur-Rahmen Khoumbati, Munir A Abbasi, Lampros K Stergioulas
Background: Digital health is well-positioned in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) to revolutionize health care due, in part, to increasing mobile phone access and internet connectivity. This paper evaluates the underlying factors that can potentially facilitate or hinder the progress of digital health in Pakistan.
Objective: The objective of this study is to identify the current digital health projects and studies being carried out in Pakistan, as well as the key stakeholders involved in these initiatives. We aim to follow a mixed-methods strategy and to evaluate these projects and studies through a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis to identify the internal and external factors that can potentially facilitate or hinder the progress of digital health in Pakistan.
Methods: This study aims to evaluate digital health projects carried out in the last 5 years in Pakistan with mixed methods. The qualitative and quantitative data obtained from field surveys were categorized according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended building blocks for health systems research, and the data were analyzed using a SWOT analysis strategy.
Results: Of the digital health projects carried out in the last 5 years in Pakistan, 51 are studied. Of these projects, 46% (23/51) used technology for conducting research, 30% (15/51) used technology for implementation, and 12% (6/51) used technology for app development. The health domains targeted were general health (23/51, 46%), immunization (13/51, 26%), and diagnostics (5/51, 10%). Smartphones and devices were used in 55% (28/51) of the interventions, and 59% (30/51) of projects included plans for scaling up. Artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML) was used in 31% (16/51) of projects, and 74% (38/51) of interventions were being evaluated. The barriers faced by developers during the implementation phase included the populations’ inability to use the technology or mobile phones in 21% (11/51) of projects, costs in 16% (8/51) of projects, and privacy concerns in 12% (6/51) of projects.
Conclusions: We conclude that while digital health has a promising future in Pakistan, it is still in its infancy at the time of this study. However, due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, there is an increase in demand for digital health and implementation of health outcomes following global social distancing protocols, especially in LMICs. Hence, there is a need for active involvement by public and private organizations to regulate, mobilize, and expand the digital health sector for the improvement of health care systems in countries.