GHF2010 – PS14 – Web-Based Health Communities: What’s Behind the Hype?

Session Outline

Parallel session PS14, Wednesday, April 21 2010, 14:00-15:30, Room 4
Chair(s): Margaret Usher-Patel, Scientist, Implementing Best Practices Initiative, Division of Reproductive Health, World Health Organization, Switzerland
Summary: Online professional web-based communities are on the rise. Through examples in research, clinical practice, and public health, this session intends to demonstrate what lies behind the current hype: What do these communities offer health professionals? And how can their impact on the strengthening of health systems be measured? On a practical note, the ingredients that make online communities successful will be distilled and the challenges to keeping a community active explored. These issues will be addressed by a panel in which each of the members is responsible for a web-based community.
Knowledge Generation and Sharing by AEMRN through Innovative Means
Charles Senessie, Founder and President, Afro-European Medical and Research Network (AEMRN), Switzerland
Healthcare Information for All by 2015
Neil Pakenham-Walsh, Coordinator, HIFA 2015, and Co-Director, Global Healthcare Information Network, United Kingdom
HRWeb: Improving Health and Health Research Management
David Abreu, Health Research Web, Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED), Switzerland
Sharing Tacit Knowledge: Experiences from the Solution Exchange
M.K. Nabeel, Solution Exchange AIDS Community, Knowledge Management Partnership Project, India
The Burgeoning Global Access to Health Platform: Future Orientations
Didier Wernli, Coordinator, Global Access to Health Platform, Division of International and Humanitarian Medicine, Geneva University Hospitals, Switzerland

Session Documents

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Session Report

Submitted by: Erica Chan Wong (ICVolunteers); Contributors: Josefine Ridderstrale (ICVolunteers)

In the midst of rapid technological advances, Dr. Margaret Usher-Patel hosted an interactive session concerning web-based health communities and how we can improve global access to information. Presenters collectively identified the need to create low bandwidth solutions for developing countries and avoid duplication of services through partnerships between platforms. Although these systems are still in their infancy, this session was filled with exciting prospects for what is yet to come!

Despite the travel interruptions, all speakers in this session led by Dr. Margaret Usher-Patel were present through the Elluminate Live! Network developed for low bandwidth users and hosted by the University of Iowa. Dr. Neil Pakenham-Walsh, from Healthcare Information For All (HIFA2015) and the Global Healthcare Information Network, United Kingdom, introduced the background, motivation and future direction of the Healthcare Information for All global campaign. He grabbed the attention of the participants by opening his presentation with HIFA2015’s vision of “a world where people are no longer dying for lack of knowledge”. HIFA2015 was started in 2004 and since then has added innovative strategies to expand information sharing through innovative strategies such as reader-focused moderation and HIFA-Lumps. Reader-focused moderation ensures that the information sent to the reader is appropriate for their internet access and information needs, whereas HIFA-lumps is an archive of information and discussions that can be continually accessed. HIFA2015 is currently available in English, French and Portuguese. In 2010, HIFA aims to incorporate the information needs of policy makers, partner with other networks and make information available in many more languages.

Dr. Charles Senessie, founder and president of the Afro-European Medical and Research Network (AEMRN), Switzerland, explained the AEMRN network is a tool to reach out to the various partners in the world. Although the network has increasingly facilitated this process, innovative ideas to improve practices are always necessary. These could include more frequent virtual education sessions that members with low bandwidth can easily access. The importance of knowledge access for poor countries is one of AEMRN’s main focuses with the goal of broadening peoples’ skills and thereby increasing the quality of life for individuals in developing countries. Dr. Senessie continued by stating that the AEMRN network acts as an information sharing community and forum where very large quantities of information can be shared through small attachments. This allows countries with low bandwidth to access desperately needed information quickly and easily. This network is rapidly growing and now has a 251 strong membership in as many as 45 countries.

Nothing is perfect, including technology. Although Dr. Nabeel was able to join the session from India through Elluminate Live!, a small glitch prevented us from hearing his voice. Regardless, Dr. Usher-Patel stepped in and delivered his presentation on Solution Exchange, which is a platform for sharing experimental knowledge between various sectors and encouraging global discussion on the Millennium Development Goals and country development goals This innovative platform acts as a catalyst allowing users to pose queries, others in the community to answer the query and then delivering a consolidated response to the original user. The philosophy of Solution Exchange is an efficient and proactive method of meeting information needs where information is made available according to user’s demand rather than provider’s perspective of the demand. Solution Exchange is currently available in a number of low-income countries and continues to strive for stronger links between organizations, government, academia, the private sector and non-governmental organizations.

Mr. David Abreu from the Health Research Web (HRweb), Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED), Switzerland, gave a presentation on HRweb. This started as a website to collect information from key institutions, but as a result of limited resources it evolved into an open access network where users can instantly interact with each other and start discussions on information uploaded and managed by governments of the countries involved. The challenge faced by HRweb is to engage the low- and middle-income countries, which are limited by low bandwidth access. In addition, there is a need to improve the management of health research at a national and institutional level. Mr. Abreu gave the example of Senegal as a successful user which has actively contributed extensive knowledge to the network.

Dr. Didier Wenli, Coordinator, Global Access to Health Platform, Division of International Humanitarian Medicine, Geneva University Hospitals, Switzerland, delivered an informative presentation on the Global Access to Health Platform (GAHP). GAHP is an online tool that allows users from around the world to share information and discuss topics of common interest. In fact, GAHP is linked to the Geneva Health Forum, aiming to create continuity between forum editions and act as a basis for preparing the conferences. GAHP is specially designed to function despite low bandwidth and uses e-mail to allow access around the world and encourage regular communication. In addition to E-discussions, GAHP creates interaction between facilitators, consultations, communities of practice and working groups.

Whether it is HIFA2015, HRweb, AEMRN or GAHP, web-based communities are effective strategies to avoid information waste and ensure that everyone around the world, including hard-to-reach communities, are receiving and sharing information, said Dr. Usher-Patel. All the speakers expressed a strong interest in avoiding duplication and developing partnerships to bring web-based communities to the next level in the future.

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