ECRA Member Tina Jahnel:

Our goal is to develop a framework of core principles and enabling priorities for the use and assessment of digital public health interventions that can be useful across diverse digital health interventions and stakeholder groups.”

With the rise of digital health technologies, there are seemingly endless possibilities for new ways to improve public health, specifically health promotion and prevention and to reduce health inequalities through easier access to healthcare. As a result, a plethora of digital technologies developed to improve individual and population health exist today. While digital health technologies have the potential to improve public health, most often their development is driven by technological advances and business opportunities rather than public health challenges and user needs. As such, the planning and assessment of digital health interventions generally do not include public health aspects.

In order to improve the value and impact of digital tools for public health it is important to understand key elements that need to be considered for the development and evaluation of digital health interventions. Although data-and technology-driven frameworks and models for the development and evaluation of digital health technologies already exist, a framework from a public health perspective is still missing. Specifically, a comprehensive framework is yet to be developed that takes the complexity of how digital tools can influence health on an individual, organizational and societal level, context in which digital health tools are developed and assessed.

Without a public health perspective including a needs-based approach to digital health technologies, we risk proliferating low-value tools that are ineffective, burdensome and reduce both quality and efficiency of digital health interventions for prevention and health promotion. Further, missing to include the public health perspective into the planning and evaluation of digital health technologies may lead to negative effects on health equity. Thus, a systematic consideration of multiple levels on which digital health interventions operate (e.g., individual, organizational, societal) and the context in which they are embedded in (e.g., geographical, epidemiological, socio-cultural, socio-economic, ethical, legal, technological and political) is needed. Additionally, viewing digital health interventions through a health equity lens we acknowledge their potential for both positive and negative effects on health inequalities.

Drawing on the insights of previous frameworks for the development and evaluation of digital health technologies, our goal is to develop a framework of core principles and enabling priorities for the use and assessment of digital public health interventions that can be useful across diverse digital health interventions and stakeholder groups. Further, we will develop a classification scheme for digital public health tools based on essential public health functions. We acknowledge the ever-evolving digital world and opportunities for new digital health interventions by continually revising the framework as the digital future emerges.

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