• Digital healthcare strategies must prioritize equity to avoid exacerbating current disparities.

• Rwanda and Chile prove health and fairness can be attained outside of high-income nations.

Virtual health and care facilities, or remote digital connectivity, should make them more accessible to more individuals. This improved access should also enhance health equality and outcomes for everybody.

A recent paper by the ITU/UNESCO -Working group of the Broadband Commission on Virtual Healthcare, co-chaired by the WHO and Novartis Foundation, and prepared with Accenture reveals that putting fairness at the center of state policy is crucial to ensuring the reverse does not happen.

Without suitable rules, individuals may lose out on virtual health and care owing to their poverty, age, gender, race, disability, or connection to broadband internet. Virtual health care might exacerbate existing imbalances.

We have released the entire set of recommendations by the working group of the Broadband Commission on 6 June, but here is a selection of best practices from some countries, we may learn from:

1. Health insurance in Rwanda

Rwanda’s strategy ensures everyone has access to virtual healthcare, regardless of income.

All Rwandans have access to community-based medical insurance, with payments based on socio-economic class. Rwanda is one of the few nations that reimburse virtual services alongside in-person treatment. By 2020, 88% of the population was covered.

2. Digital hospitals in Chile

A Chilean project uses virtual services to address the care gap between urban and rural regions by allowing rural residents to obtain professional medical care remotely via digital hospitals.

Digital hospitals, launched in 2019 by the government of Chile to expedite early illness identification, allow residents in remote locations to receive radiological exams and access specialized health services via virtual interchange of medical information.

3. US allows cross-state care

The US has helped rural people receive specialty treatments. During the COVID-19 epidemic, numerous jurisdictions changed their licensure policies to allow virtual care across state lines. People used to go to cities for specialty consultations. Now, policies will make these changes permanent.

4. Increased minority equity

New Zealand’s health-system changes to guarantee Mori representation help virtual services minimize imbalances for minority communities.

The new governance system includes facilities for additional virtual and digital services, such as phone and video consultations. Special money was given to health and care professionals to build distant working arrangements, including digital community support programs and a Mori telehealth service.

5. Germany’s disability-inclusiveness

Germany shows how to include disability in policymaking. Since 2000, Germany’s national health objectives include health inequalities. Recently, licensing regulations demand digital health apps (including virtual delivery solutions) to enable persons with vision, hearing, and motor skills limitations by incorporating operational aids or supporting the platform’s aids.

6. UK data governance initiatives

A UK strategy shows how to make virtual health and care inclusive. The UK National Health Service has a Data Ethics Framework to minimize unintentional damage or prejudice while creating solutions or providing health and treatment. The framework guides appropriate government and public sector data usage, particularly virtual health and care data. It provides a self-assessment technique to analyse fairness and minimize unintentional discriminatory impacts on people and all social groupings.

The examples are from high-, low-, and intermediate nations. Virtual health and care may improve access and inclusion worldwide.

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