Speaking during the opening ceremony of the Irish Forum for Global Health, Dr Tom O’Callaghan shared with delegates the importance of information technology in responding to current challenges in the human resources health crisis.
O’ Callaghan is a co-founder, and Chief Executive Officer, of iheed, an organisation with a mission to ‘identify, invest in and promote innovative health education and training solutions for community health workers’. Iheed develops strategies for bringing health education and other training to valuable frontline workers in developing countries through the innovative use of information technology.
O’Callaghan is an enthusiastic and entertaining speaker, and as he outlined the everyday role technology already plays in our lives he placed particular emphasis on its potential in training and education. He offered the intriguing example of a soldier stationed in Afghanistan, learning Irish through the Internet. He argued that we are living in a time witnessing a ‘super convergence’ of technology resulting in a world open to change or, as he describes, a process of “creative disruption”.
Dr. O’ Callaghan sees creative disruption as an ideal opportunity to respond to the challenges and needs of frontline health workers through technologies providing distance learning, education and training. However, he notes that in order to capitalise and utilise these technologies effectively, a paradigm shift is required where we revaluate our understanding of how healthcare is administered, and create new partnerships reflecting this.
Access to supplementary training and education provides health workers with career development opportunities, and contributes to better diagnosis, treatment and improved health conditions. Both training and education opportunities are key to reducing non-attendance at health care centres, which is one of the central concerns being discussed throughout this conference.
Speaking with Dr. O’ Callaghan after the session, I asked his views on regulation to ensure ethical use of the new technologies. He emphasised his belief in the importance of creative disruption, and the value of a system that is “open source to everyone”, allowing the combining and recombining of a multitude of discrete elements, creating new ways of approaching healthcare. However, Dr. O’Callaghan is conscious of the need to monitor the content of education and training programs to ensure a high level of quality. He recognises that in order for these technologies to have an influence, trust is required between users and providers. In many ways the relevance of the technology is based on the fact that we are in the midst of a consumer revolution.
I also wondered what could be the repercussions of relying on technology for diagnosis and treatment. If the future is technology then what happens with the diseases and people who remain unyielding to it? Where and how do we treat those who do not fit with this model? O’ Callaghan answered by admitting that technology is not the answer to everything, but that a lot of healthcare problems are very simple and that technology has something to offer in these areas. He said that with technology and this kind of work we are “at the cusp of something”.
Technology is increasingly central to the ways we experience and understand health. However, it is vital to understand both these things are experienced differently in different times and places by different people. I remain optimistic and hopeful for what the future holds as regards technology, but also cautious. Technology may be the way forward, but it may also be the road back to imperialism, which is why I urge careful consideration in its applications.
This article was written as part of a series of articles written by the Key Correspondent Team (KC Team) who covered the IFGH 2012 International Conference.
For more information on the KC Team click here: www.keycorrespondents.org