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Digital Solutions to Public Health Issues  

Si Ying Tan and Jeremy Fung Yen Lim

Digital health technology has been adopted rapidly by countries as tools to promote good public health outcomes over the last decade. The COVID-19 pandemic that occurred since November 2019 has further accelerated the salience and relevance of digital health technology in tackling public health issues as countries start to implement movement restriction policies that pose a challenge to the physical delivery of healthcare services. Unarguably, the pandemic has elevated the significances of digital solutions to public health issues, which include improving access to an increased range of health services and the potential of cost-saving, maximizing population-wide health impacts through behavioral modifications, and controlling and managing public health emergencies. In general, digital technology in public health has three major applications—monitoring, decision support, and education. Monitoring is especially relevant in the context of effective disease screening and pandemic surveillance, decision support applies to the promotion of behavior modifications and resource optimization, while education serves to improve population-level health awareness and knowledge. Despite the promises of digital solutions to address various public health issues, there are unintended consequences that could arise consequent to their widespread applications, resulting in governance challenges and ethical issues in their applications, such as data privacy and erosion of trust, safety, cybersecurity, algorithmic bias, liability, autonomy, and social justice. To reap tangible benefits and positive impacts from large-scale deployment of various digital health solutions, countries need to anchor their national digital health policies or strategies by considering not only their benefits and applications, but also various governance challenges and ethical issues that could ensue during their implementations.