ONC’s Journey Chairing the Global Digital Health Partnership in 2022 and 2023

Aisha Hasan | May 2, 2024

Many digital health leaders in governments internationally face the same types of challenges that we do here in the United States (US). Despite differences in care delivery and payment models, countries around the world are focused on advancing interoperability, galvanizing patient-centered care, empowering individuals, reducing administrative burden for clinicians, and improving the safety, quality, and effectiveness of the health care that’s delivered to their populations.

As part of ONC’s international efforts, we joined the Global Digital Health Partnership (GDHP) in 2018 and represent the US. In addition to co-chairing the GDHP’s Cyber Security and Interoperability Work Streams, the US had the honor of Chairing GDHP in 2022 and 2023. ONC’s Deputy National Coordinator for Health IT, Steve Posnack, served as the GDHP Chair. The Netherlands was the GDHP Vice Chair. Now that his tenure as GDHP Chair is over, I sat down with Steve to ask him about his experience.

What is the GDHP?

As a “phrase of endearment,” I call GDHP the “government geek squad for digital health.” Now comprising 36 countries and the World Health Organization, GDHP includes my digital health government peers in different ministries of health around the world. GDHP provides an informal forum where we can discuss policy and programmatic collaboration to accelerate digital health implementation and actions. GDHP organizes its collaboration through five work streams: Clinical and Human Engagement, Cyber Security, Evidence and Evaluation, Interoperability, and Policy Environments.

You were GDHP Chair for the past two years, what was that like?

I reflected on this a bit when I said my thank you remarks during my last meeting as GDHP Chair. To be honest, I was a bit nervous when I started. I had been involved in the Interoperability Work Stream, but leading the whole group was a different story. Fast forward two years and it was an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my career. As a government digital health leader, being able to jump straight into deep technical and policy conversations with my international peers has been really rewarding and fun. Two years is both long and short at the same time. So part of my work as GDHP Chair was making sure we set up processes, structures, and collaboration opportunities to make GDHP better off when we were done. This included the launch of the new GDHP health website, recruiting new government members, and more efficiently organizing our work streams.

What’s an example of GDHP work that you’re proud of?

I’m biased as the Interoperability Work Stream Co-Chair. So naturally, I’m going to highlight the work GDHP has done to advance the International Patient Summary (IPS). We’ve made solid progress from technology and policy perspectives. Technically, the IPS is now standardized in both an HL7 document format as well as a FHIR format and can be used across organizations, in a country, across country borders, and across regions in the world. The Interoperability Work Stream has helped coalesce countries, organizations, and technology developers to advance IPS use cases through patient-mediated and provider-mediated IPS data exchange. Washington State’s WA Verify+ is an example of advancing patient-mediated exchange. Canada’s Pan-Canadian Patient Summary Specifications and New Zealand’s IPS are examples of countries advancing IPS through provider-mediated exchange.

What are some other examples of collaborative efforts among GDHP members?

To start, over the past couple of years the Evidence and Evaluation Work Stream developed and published documents addressing digital health gaps and provided best practices. In 2021, the work stream published a white paper providing insight on digital health adoption variation among GDHP countries. In 2022, the work stream published a research paper highlighting GDHP members’ digital health priorities and why they are important.

The Cyber Security Work Stream’s proposed Global Digital Health Model Security Notice is an example of a collective effort to benefit the global digital health cyber security sector. It helps digital health technology developers convey information about their security policies to users in an easily accessible resource.

Lastly, the Policy Environments Work Stream created a Policy Desktop Reference Guide which is a member resource that collates GDHP members’ digital health policies and best practices in topics such as legislation, established guidelines, and recommendations. GDHP members can view samples of policies, read best practices, identify areas for collaboration, and understand various international policy approaches.

What future trends do you see in global digital health?

A consistent theme among GDHP members is increasing patients’ engagement in their care. The Clinical and Human Engagement Work Stream has various efforts to advance patient engagement and digital health literacy in member countries. Based off this work stream’s efforts, the US led the GDHP-wide development of The Global Resource for Patient Engagement, which will be published on the GDHP website in the near future. This Resource seeks to advance patient engagement through digital health by providing best practices, lessons learned, recommendations, and GDHP countries stories to GDHP members and the public. The goal of this Resource is for countries to learn from each other and implement patient engagement efforts in their countries that work best for their populations.

Any last thoughts?

As I reflected earlier, it was a real privilege to lead GDHP for two years as Chair. The Netherlands and Portugal have now taken over as Chair and Vice Chair respectively, and are active, engaged, and forward-thinking GDHP members. I know our GDHP leadership will continue to lead us to push innovative and helpful digital health efforts to strengthen health care at a global scale.

You can watch a video of the GDHP Chair transition and find more information about GDHP on gdhp.health. If you’re a country reading this who wants to join GDHP, send an email to the GDHP Secretariat to get the ball rolling!