When the WHO-ITU National eHealth Strategy Toolkit was published in 2012, its timeliness and utility was quickly recognized by government officials, development workers, and private-sector partners. The Toolkit offered much-needed practical guidance on policy, governance, financing, infrastructure, workforce capacity, and standards – all the ingredients that make the eHealth cake either rise or fall flat. Since 2012, many countries have adapted or directly applied the Toolkit to craft a sound eHealth strategy.
But just as a gym membership is useless if you don’t’ actually go to the gym, a strategy is only effective if it is capably implemented. When pivoting from strategy to implementation, publicly available tools and guidelines, diligent governance, and consistently enforced standards are highly valued by public servants, development workers, and private sector partners. Because each country’s health and technology landscape is unique and contextual, truly useful implementation tools will need to be flexible and adaptable. But a lot of processes and resources will be similar, and many of the technologies featured in strategy and policy documents were chosen with interoperability and standardization in mind.
The shift to implementation means it’s time for ministries and stakeholders to choose vendors, secure financing, establish governance, train people, enforce standards, and fill gaps in the value chain. These are all points of opportunity for private-sector players, and there will clearly be an advantage for those who have been part of the strategy and policy discussions to date. For others, it’s not too late, but familiarity and commitment to new policies and strategies will be essential. Agility and perseverance will also be required. Implementation is sweaty work – longer and messier than setting strategy. But if you’re going to buy a gym membership (or build a viable business in emerging markets), you’d better be ready to sweat.