African American mother sitting with her sick child and speaking with a medical professional via video chat during the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Getty Images

UMass Economist Lucy Xiaolu Wang Publishes IMF Note on Digital Health Care Interventions


Lucy Xiaolu Wang
Lucy Xiaolu Wang

Lucy Xiaolu Wang, assistant professor of resource economics, has published a new International Monetary Fund (IMF) Note that outlines how digital health records and telemedicine can improve health care for underserved populations and make better use of limited resources. Wang and co-author Carolina Bloch, an economist with the IMF, also show that digital disease surveillance tools can identify outbreaks and track the spread of diseases, while novel digital platforms can facilitate patent licensing and international pooled procurements for better access medicines in developing countries.

Wang presented the work at the IMF GovTech workshop in February and gave a seminar on her work about international drug procurement to the Expenditure Policy Division of the IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department in May.

While COVID-19 accelerated and broadened the adoption of telemedicine, the publication notes that digitization of health records and use of connected devices to deliver health care began long before the pandemic. Wang and Bloch explore case studies from around the globe, describing the challenges countries faced and the digital solutions that were implemented.

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In Estonia, the government introduced digital health records and a centralized online patient portal to replace a paper-based system that was slow and inefficient. In South Korea, health officials leveraged the single-payer health insurance system, in which citizens enroll at birth, along with data from banks, telecommunication firms and other sources, to create a system to track the spread of COVID-19. In China, a company harnessed data to become a one-stop health care provider, offering everything from doctor consultations to life insurance, and is now employing artificial intelligence to answer patient questions and make recommendations to doctors. In Brazil and countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where access to health care in rural areas is difficult, policymakers enhanced the digital infrastructure and deployed telemedicine solutions to improve the quantity and quality of care.

The IMF Note also points out that digital platforms have the potential to improve processes for procuring medicines by pooling purchases and driving down prices as well as to increase access to generic medications in developing countries by creating a database to manage drug patents.

Wang hopes the publication serves as a guide to further improve health care for underserved populations, empower doctors to leverage data to make the best decisions for their patients and ensure that finite resources are directed where they will have the most impact.

The full IMF Note, “Digital Interventions in the Health Sector: Country Cases and Policy Discussions,” is available online.