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Frenk: Institutional Changes Needed If Health Transformation To Occur

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In order to allow mobile technology to transform global heath, the world needs more than just new devices, said Dr. Julio Frenk of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Frenk, speaking at the mHealth Summit in Washington on Wednesday, said that the full potential of new technologies will only be realized if global health systems are also transformed.

"It will be necessary to pursue innovation not only in technology but also in our institutions," he said. "The world is experiencing the most radical transformation in history. … We are at the threshold of a new era of global health."

Frenk, a former minister of health for Mexico who instituted that country's universal service for health care, called for a broad engagement of all sectors of society to consider the "shared social objective" of achieving universal access to health care worldwide.

Alongside the communications revolution, Frenk said, there should be a parallel search for a better way of financing health systems around the globe into "plastic networks that blur the traditional lines of care."

"We need to move away from the idea that poor people should receive poor care," he said. "Heath systems are the vehicle through which technology can be delivered."

In addition to the transformations that are needed in technology and systems design, Frenk said there also needs to be transformation in health institutions and leadership.

"Whether in the ministries of health, hospitals and academic centers, [progress] is always tough," Frenk said, adding that it "requires long-term investment that are often obliterated by short-term political pressures."

He added, "In order to improve the delivery of health care, we need software and hardware, but we also need human-ware."

That is true, Frenk said, because in the end "health is all about people" from patients and providers to public health workers and policymakers.

"Not only do we have more problems to face," he said, "but we also have more opportunities to deal with them."

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