Addressing the growing needs of Kazakhstan’s digital health workforce

Within a decade, Kazakhstan has moved from a paper-based health information system to embracing a rapid implementation of digital interventions for managers, clinicians, and patients. Digital data and digital processes have become vital for health financing, patient pathway management, quality control and health-related government services. Since 2013, when the first national eHealth development strategy was adopted, the country has implemented institutional reforms and strengthened legislation, as well as introduced digital tools at all levels of the health-care system. 

The WHO Country Office in Kazakhstan and the Ministry of Health, with financial support from the European Union (EU), organized a 2-day roundtable discussion with academia to address some of the questions arising from these new developments. Are health-care professionals ready to ensure the safe use of new technologies? Does the sector have enough human resources and knowledge to cope with the pace of technological change? What digital skills and knowledge should health-care professionals have in 5 or 10 years from now? 

“The planning horizon for education and human resource management in health care is extremely long, while technologies are bringing us everyday revolutions right now. This means we have to address the topic of digital health in pre-service education in a strategic and mindful manner,” stated Mr Beibut Yessenbayev, Vice Minister of Health of Kazakhstan. 

A digitally enabled future

Deans and faculty members from 7 medical universities, as well as officials from the Ministry of Health, attended the event. Participants engaged in lively discussions about the specific knowledge and skills that should be integrated into medical education curricula. Several key themes emerged:

  • Digital literacy: Participants agreed that health-care professionals must possess a strong foundation in digital literacy, encompassing not only basic computer skills but also an understanding of data privacy and cybersecurity.
  • Telemedicine and remote monitoring: The importance of training health-care professionals in telemedicine and remote patient monitoring was underscored, given the growing trend towards virtual health-care delivery.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics: The integration of AI and data analytics into clinical decision-making processes was discussed as crucial for improving diagnostic accuracy and treatment outcomes.
  • Interdisciplinary education: Despite existing experience of some medical universities in providing joint training with technical faculties on information technology in health care, the significance of fostering collaboration between health-care professionals, data scientists, engineers and other experts to drive innovation in health care was highlighted.

“The rapid development of digital health in Kazakhstan necessitates a new transdisciplinary approach to cultivate professionals possessing a synthesis of medical and information technology knowledge. We should define the role and purpose of these specialists, establish exacting professional standards and competencies, and engage in robust collaboration with the Ministry of Health, WHO and employers, to implement this initiative successfully. We are committed to making every effort to promote and support digital health in the country,” said Professor Victor Ricklefs, the Vice Rector for Strategic Development and International Cooperation at Karaganda Medical University.

Participants agreed on several action points that will provide a basis for sustainable human resource and capacity development for digital health. WHO is committed to supporting Kazakhstan in this important area, playing a crucial role in creating a brighter, more digitally enabled future for health-care professionals and the patients they serve. This work aligns with the “Regional digital health action plan for the WHO European Region 2023–2030”, adopted last year by all Member States of the Region. Advancing country capacities to govern digital transformation in health care and promoting digital health literacy are key objectives of the action plan.

Partnering with the EU

The discussion was held as a part of a €10 million project co-financed by the EU and being implemented by WHO/Europe in 2022–2026. The project aims to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and reinforce longer-term health resilience through stronger national immunization programmes and health information management systems in 5 countries in central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. 

Launched in October 2022, the project is initially focusing on scaling-up COVID-19 vaccination, developing and implementing COVID-19 and routine immunization plans, training health workers and professionals involved in vaccination, and strengthening immunization information systems. The project will also build up vaccine-preventable disease surveillance and the use of digital solutions to prevent and respond to future vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks.

 

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