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From paper to digital pathways: WHO launches first ‘SMART Guidelines’

The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched its first guidelines for digital adoption; from paper to digital pathways.

It aims to accelerate and ensure consistency of digital health tools, interventions and pathways, starting first with antenatal care.

The SMART Guidelines have been produced to support developers, policy makers, technology teams, and health workers through the process of adapting and applying WHO global health and data recommendations to countries’ existing – and evolving – digital systems.

The acronym ‘SMART’ stands for Standards-based, Machine-readable, Adaptive, Requirements-based, and Testable, forming the structure of future guides. The first includes documentation, procedures, and digital health tools, ranging from baseline assessment tools to guidelines for new digital tools.

WHO has also announced it’s developing a digital decision support and person-centered tracking tool for health care providers. Based on their guidelines, the algorithms will provide digital support for conditions such as anemia, pre-eclampsia/eclampsia, and support integration with local electronic medical records systems.

Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO Chief Scientist, said: “In this day and age, the rigorous process of developing WHO guidance is only one part of improving health outcomes for people around the world.

“Recommendations become meaningful when they are lifted off the page and effectively applied to local systems at the country level; when they are aligned with an evolving evidence base. SMART Guidelines are a pioneering approach to digital health systems transformation.”

Dr Nancy Kidula, Medical Officer in the WHO Regional Office for Africa, added: “Every country’s digital health landscape is different, from the software that has been selected to the data that is available and the priorities that have been defined. To reduce error, ensure transparency and adhere to technical standards, a systematic approach to understanding and adapting WHO recommendations is essential.”

SMART Guidelines for HIV, STIs, immunisation, family planning, child health and humanitarian emergencies are in development and will be released later this year.