A New Framework for Digital Self-Care

By: Kasey Henderson, Advocacy Coordinator and Amanda Kalamar, Senior Research Advisor for Sexual and Reproductive Health 

COVID-19 has changed the way we live and access health servicesAs health systems and people transition towards self-care to shore up stressed healthcare systems and meet their health needs, digital health services create new opportunities to increase individual agency, in turn accelerating the overall improvement of health outcomes. 

When well designeddigital self-care increases people’s self-awareness of their health needs, encouraging safe self-testing with appropriate followup. It also helps people self-manage their own health conditions, with reliable linkages to high quality information and health providers.  

Digital self-care can facilitate and promote selfcare for people seeking services or information within the public or private sectors, while maintaining privacy for individuals engaging in self-motivated health behaviors. Leveraging digital technology can also reach people in new ways, helping minimize stigma and discrimination associated with sensitive health areas such as sexual and reproductive health and rights.  

The intersection of self-care and digital health has the potential to increase access to critical health services but also presents challenges and possible barriers. There has never been a more relevant time to develop practical guidance for effectively designed, implemented and researched digital health in support of self-care.  

The Self-Care Trailblazer Group, in collaboration with HealthEnabled and building on the foundational work of the World Health Organization on self-care and digital health, has developed “Digital Self-Care: A Framework for Design, Implementation and EvaluationThe framework provides practical guidance for effectively designed, implemented and researched digital health in support of self-careWhat this means in practice is ensuring that the four key principles for quality digital self-care are considered when designing and implementing programs.  

Key principles for quality digital self-care 

From increasing consumers’ access to health information and services, to increasing anonymity and autonomy, to continuous monitoring of quality and safety, there are many opportunities for digital self-care interventions to reimagine health services and their implementationand to do so in a way that strengthens the health system.  

However, there are also ways that digital health approaches could accidentally end up doing harm if the below principles are not considered — or could result in a fragmentation of healthcare that hinders rather than helps good health.  

The four principles are: user experience; data privacy and confidentiality; quality assurance, and accountability and responsibility. Their integration into digital health results in a unique value add that digital technology can bring to self-care: the ability to unify the need for a person-centered approach to healthcare with an approach that strengthens health systems.   

Interested in using this framework to adapt your programming and ensure quality digital self-care interventions? Here are some tips on how to use this resource:  
1. Explore the digital self-care roadmap.  

With suggestions on how to analyze, define, integrate, develop and test your digital self-care interventions, the roadmap encourages implementers to pause and consider whether a digital implementation project can truly address the needs and gaps in the target community.  

2. Use the framework to design and deliver interventions where digital health and self-care intersect 

The principles in the framework invite you to consider: What have you done well? What have you missed? How can you address those gaps? What opportunities are there to align with others, to reduce fragmentation?  

3. Examine case studies from partners. 

Rich with practical advice on applying this framework to your digital self-care programs, the case studies offer examples of how to ensure the four characteristics of a quality intervention are woven into each aspect of your programming.  

4. Check out our call to action. 

With recommendations for designers, implementers, policy makers, researchers and donors, the framework offers key considerations and recommendations for various stakeholders on the path to designing and implementing digital self-care interventions.

Ready to give the digital self-care framework a try? Dive in here and don’t miss out on our webinar on Thursday October 29thwhere we will examine case studies and provide practical implementation tips!