How to Report and Write About Digital Health

How to Report and Write About Digital Health

By Artur Olesch, Digital Health Journalist

Telemedicine, telecare, and mobile health apps have recently gained momentum, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and novel healthcare challenges. When preparing content on emerging technologies, it is fundamental to understand their context, impact on the healthcare ecosystem, benefits, and threats.

Digital health or e-health?

The term “digital health” describes the digital solutions aiming to improve individuals’ health and well-being, decision-making, effectiveness, access to information, communication standards, management, and policy-making. Following the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) definition (updated in March 2020), “digital health connects and empowers people and populations to manage health and wellness, augmented by accessible and supportive provider teams working within flexible, integrated, interoperable and digitally-enabled care environments that strategically leverage digital tools, technologies and services to transform care delivery.”[1]

Digital health emerged from “health IT” (used mostly for electronic health records, IT systems in the hospitals) and “e-health” (defined as “the use of information and communications technology in support of health and health-related fields”). Hence, digital health doesn’t focus on technology anymore but on transforming healthcare using digital technologies.

The place of digital health in the current and future care landscape has been comprehensively explained in “Digital Health: A Framework for Healthcare Transformation”[2] published by HIMSS.

Why is digital health important now?

Healthcare is facing enormous challenges: aging societies, a rising burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), health inequalities, medical errors, growing patient expectations, a shortage of healthcare professionals, the inefficient use of resources, and global pandemics like COVID-19. As a result, healthcare spending and the gap between the demand and supply of healthcare services are rising continuously.

Digital health technologies are seen as enablers for more sustainable, efficient, personalized, patient-centered, and precise healthcare.

In recent years, World Health Organization (WHO) recognized the potential of digital health in supporting the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and Universal Health Coverage (UHC). To enable countries worldwide to plan, adopt, and benefit from technologies, the WHO has released recommendations on digital interventions for health system strengthening[3] and a global strategy on digital health 2020–2050.[4]

Identifying the benefits of new technologies

Digital health is hugely popular. Some argue it will help to address the abovementioned healthcare challenges. Although many scientific papers have been published recently on the topic, the positive impact of digital solutions for disease prevention, quality of care, and the treatment of some diseases is still understudied. Enthusiasm toward digital health technologies is also fueled by startups developing innovative solutions.

Especially when reporting on recent innovations, a double-check and verification of scientific facts is a must. The case study of a medical startup, Theranos, illustrates that relying on data available on the Internet might be insufficient (a revolutionary blood-testing technology turned to be a fraud[5]). Since digital health is a relatively new field, finding a reliable source requires in-depth research.

Papers exploring the benefits of digital applications in specific medical fields might be found in high-profile scientific journals (Nature, Science, The Lancet, JAMA, The BMJ). For journalistic objectivity, potential hazards – if they exist – should also be addressed. The most common ones are data privacy, unethical data processing, and cybersecurity threats.

Understanding the ecosystem

When writing about a particular technology, it is advisable to consider its impact on all healthcare system levels to capture its opportunities and limitations. A helpful tool is a healthcare stack analysis that includes: technology (what added-value does it offer?), the user (the target group, individuals or organizations), workflow (how does it fit the present procedures and organization structures?), and the healthcare system. The implementation of technology must consider the regulatory framework (national and international law and unwritten rules), healthcare standards, reimbursement system, existing infrastructure, culture, and trust toward new technologies. Every healthcare system is a complex and regulated ecosystem with many stakeholders representing different interests.

Distinguishing between well-being and medical technologies 

At the beginning of 2021, there were over 400,000 health apps on the market. Health and well-being-related features are embedded in smartphones (e.g. activity and sleep tracking) and wearable technologies (e.g. smartwatches, fitness bands). Miniaturized sensors measure health parameters and monitor behavior to assist the users in navigating their own health. A few of them are already medical devices (recognized by the CE mark in Europe, FDA clearance in the USA, approval by CFDA in China), but most of them are well-being solutions. A rising number of digital technologies include Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning algorithms. Their application remains still unregulated, but, for example, they should follow ethical guidelines that are vital for gaining trust.

Some solutions, like telecare systems, do not require medical certifications. However, they should be consistent with data protection regulations (e.g. General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)[6] in Europe and The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)[7] in the USA). On the contrary, telemedicine solutions must be compliant with relevant regulations if they include measurement of health parameters (blood pressure, pulse, body temperature).

Data sources and local perspective

There are many reliable international knowledge sources regarding digital health, with Lancet Digital Health and HIMSS media at the forefront. Due to different healthcare system models (private or public health insurance), journalists should also verify if the technology can be deployed in a particular national and regional ecosystem. One guiding principle should not be forgotten: it is the patient who must benefit most from the digital solutions. Therefore their opinions should also be included in the media coverage.

Storytelling in digital health

The biggest challenge today is not developing technology but its adoption in the healthcare market. It requires new digital skills of healthcare professionals and citizens, reinvented reimbursement models, and – most of all – cultural change or change management toward prevention-oriented and personalized healthcare. Finally, in digitalization, the essential part is a human factor: trust toward new technologies.

Key recommendations

  • Avoid generalized benefits but focus on what the technology can deliver;
  • Minimize use of the buzz words like “democratization of healthcare,” “digital revolution,” and “disruptive technologies”;
  • Do not stereotype or bring up generalized threats, for example, concerns about data safety if there are no convincing arguments;
  • Examine the impact of the technology on every layer of healthcare systems and different stakeholders (patient, healthcare professionals);
  • Focus on the transformational power of the solution, not the solution itself;
  • Check if the technology is compliant with the regulatory framework, data protection regulations, and local healthcare system goals and challenges;
  • Check if the solution does not increase healthcare inequalities (price, availability for different patient groups);
  • Follow the “patients included” principle. When collecting opinions, ask the patients or patients’ representatives about their perspectives;
  • Highlight the problem in healthcare that the digital solution addresses;
  • Be aware of vanity metrics that describe the uptake of technologies (number of downloads, users, etc.) which can be misleading;
  • Raise awareness toward challenges like interoperability, access to technologies, digital literacy skills, and infrastructure.












Highway Africa, together with the Partnership for Social Accountability (PSA) Alliance, invites journalists in Southern Africa to apply for the 3rd Southern Africa Media Awards in Social Accountability Reporting 2021.


The award aims to encourage high-quality investigative reporting (using data journalism) on issues of social accountability, specifically on HIV / SRHR and food security in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.


The award recognises three journalists from the PSA Alliance’s project countries – Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe – for their outstanding investigative reporting, using data journalism, on issues of social accountability related to one of the following categories;

  1. HIV and Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)
  2. Food Security.

Applications will be examined by a panel of media experts in the region. All three winners will be invited to attend the virtual Highway Africa Conference to be held on 21-23 June 2021, where the awards will be presented.


 Three awards will be offered as 1st prize, 2nd prize and 3rd prize.

  • USD 250 for 1st prize
  • USD 200 for 2nd prize
  • USD 100 for 3rd prize


  • Eligible entries should consist of investigative data journalism reporting on issues of social accountability[i] related to HIV and sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and food security.
  • Applicants must be based in Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia or Zimbabwe.
  • Work must be published between March 2020 and March 2021.
  • Entries can be in any language spoken in the five countries
  • Entries can be in print, online, radio, TV, multimedia and photo journalism
  • If submitting multiple entries either in the same category or across multiple categories, complete an entry for each story, to a maximum of two entries.


02 April 2021 (23:59 GMT +2)


Applicants are strongly encouraged to read through the following documents to fully understand the requirements for the call before applying. Late and incomplete applications will not be accepted.

  1. What is Data Journalism
  2. Social Accountability Reporting Explained
  3. Adjudication Criteria
  4. Past winners stories
  5. Past winners videos

Applicants should fill in the application form here >>


The Partnership for Social Accountability (PSA) Alliance, through the project ‘Strengthening Social Accountability and Oversight in Health and Agriculture in Southern Africa,’ seeks to improve public service delivery in agriculture (food security), health (HIV/AIDS, sexual and reproductive health and rights) and public resource management. This is done through strengthening the oversight and social accountability roles of five target groups in the SADC region, specifically: selected parliamentary committees, relevant government departments, issue-based civil society organisations (CSOs), smallholder farmer organisations, and the media.

With support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), the project focuses on Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The PSA Alliance is a consortium of organisations led by ActionAid International (AAI) and including the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) of Rhodes University, Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF) and SAfAIDS.

[i] Social accountability is the broad range of actions and mechanisms beyond voting that citizens can use to hold the state to account. It is accountability that relies on civic engagement, namely a situation whereby ordinary citizens and/or civil society organizations participate directly or indirectly in exacting accountability. It is the right of citizens to demand explanations & justifications for the way public resources are spent, and demand corrective action where necessary.

Rebuilding trust and credibility in the media

Rebuilding trust and credibility in the media

Highway Africa (HA), the continent’s biggest media conference run by the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, held its third webinar, entitled “Building Trust Practicing Credibility: A Journalism Challenge,” on 14 October.

This webinar looked at the credibility of the media’s news content and the role audience trust plays in the economic and financial fortunes and misfortunes of media houses. It formed part of the “Our Futures, Our New Normals” webinar series that seek practical solutions to challenges that face African media and journalism in the era of Covid-19 and how to explore and exploit emerging opportunities.

Speaking at this event, Anya Schiffrin, from the International & Public Affairs School, Columbia University, noted that that there has been a renewed interest in trust and credibility within the media post-2016 after Donald Trump came into power in the United States.

Schiffrin also pointed out that the latest 2020 Reuters Digital News Report indicates that media trust is currently rising. “What we have seen since Covid-19 is a vast increase in consumption of news, and people are turning back to reliable sources for information about the virus,” Schiffrin said.

Two editors on the frontline of dealing with trust and credibility within the media, Bakari Machumu, Executive Director of Mwananchi Communications based in Tanzania, and Nathan Geffen, Editor for GroundUp, South Africa, joined Schiffrin as panelists in this webinar.

Machumu noted that their media company is guided by editorial policies, a working governing body, and editorial committee that oversee the newsroom and trust and credibility issues.

Machumu further noted that over the years, they had made their editorial policies public to let the public aware and judge the media company on their performance

Geffen stated that they have stringent editing, fact-checking, and peer review processes in their news agency to minimize the trust-breaking errors.

Geffen further said: “We have to try and put aside our preconceived ideas and notions and try and be as fair as possible to all parties no matter what we might personally think of them.”

In his closing remarks, Bakari emphasized the need to collaborate as an industry and different players in the sector, those in the newsroom, the regulators, and other stakeholders. He called for more research to help understand the challenges the media in Africa are facing.

The webinar was hosted by Professor Anthea Garman, the Acting Head of the School of Journalism and Media Studies, and Francis Mdlongwa, the Director of Rhodes University’s Sol Plaatje Institute (SPI) for Media Leadership and the Acting Director of Highway Africa.


Highway Africa has usually run annual conferences focused on developments of the continent’s journalism and media and are attended by hundreds of African journalists.

There will be no conference in 2020 because of Covid-19, but a virtual Highway Africa summit conference is planned for June 2021.




Webinar underscores need for media partnerships

Webinar underscores need for media partnerships

Makhanda (Grahamstown), South Africa — Highway Africa (HA), the largest conference for African journalists on the continent, hosted its second webinar entitled “Journalists, Scientists, Whistle-blowers, Governments: Who are The Truth-Tellers” on August 5.

This session was part of a series of Highway Africa webinars, hosted by the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, that seeks practical solutions to challenges faced by African media and journalism in the era of Covid-19.

In this second webinar, four media experts from across the African continent discussed how to navigate the rocky terrain of deciding who to trust amongst journalists, scientists, governments and whistle-blowers in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Teldah Mawarire, a project director at Internews shared worrying findings from a recent Internews research project that examines freedom of expression for journalists across Southern Africa in the Covid-19 era. She noted that “some of the laws which are meant to respond to Covid-19 are infringing and curtailing on freedom of expression”. The research shows that laws prohibiting disinformation and carrying large financial penalties are leading to self-censorship among journalists across the region. It also reveals that some countries in the region have pronounced government sources to be the only legitimate sources for Covid-19 reporting. This has crippled investigative journalism and has made it nearly impossible to report independently on infection numbers and Covid-19’s impact on communities and hospitals in Southern Africa.

Mawarire also highlighted the acute lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for Southern African journalists and the severe financial pressures affecting print media sustainability in the region. The Internews report focused on seven Southern African countries which include: Zimbabwe, Zambia, Eswatini, Lesotho, South Africa, Botswana and  Malawi. It will be released on the Internews website ( in the next few weeks.

Mawarire shared the platform with Mia Malan, the founding editor-in-chief of Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism, a pioneering, donor-funded health media start-up in South Africa; as well as Dr Laeed Zaghlami, a professor in the faculty of Information and Communication at Algiers University in Algeria.

Malan reflected on the difference in reporting between two different pandemics, that of HIV/Aids, and the current Covid-19 pandemic. She noted that in the case of HIV/Aids there were better opportunities to report on studies as the epidemic was slower-paced than Covid-19.

Malan explained that the pandemic has revealed the importance for all journalists, not just science journalists, to understand the process of scientific research and publication. Such knowledge can help journalists realise how to make sense of untested information that is regularly circulated online in the form of prepublication drafts. These drafts facilitate the rapid circulation of scientific ideas when urgent solutions are needed to save lives, but also need to be treated with some scepticism. An overview of prepublication drafts reveal numerous discrepancies in Covid-19 studies and such research often  has to be retracted later or adjusted after peer review. Journalists need to understand the difference between pre-publication drafts and peer-reviewed articles and should only rely on peer-reviewed publications in their reporting.

“There are a few rules to be followed. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. When you get fast-tracked research, you need to raise your eyebrows. When you see a scientist speaking outside of their field of expertise, then question their credibility and ask questions”, Malan warned.

Zaghlami echoed Malan’s sentiments on the importance of checking the credibility of both information and sources. He noted that in Algeria there has been a massive increase in social media usage over the past year, particularly of Facebook and YouTube. This has resulted in the rise of conspiracy theories, as well as controversial and fake news, especially around Covid-19.

The webinar was moderated by Dr Alette Schoon, a senior lecturer at the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, and Julian Jacobs, a PhD candidate at the school, who has worked in the area of science/health communications for more than 15 years.

Malan called for partnerships between the media, civil society organisations, scientists, governments and epidemiologists to collaborate around media solutions for addressing the Covid-19 pandemic. She remarked that small media start-ups focusing on health were ironically better suited to survive the current economic challenges than many large media organisations, particularly print publications.

Highway Africa, established more than two decades ago, has developed a reputation as the conference that engages with the most important issues facing media practitioners in Africa. While there will be no face-to-face conference in 2020 because of Covid-19, planning is underway for a Highway Africa summit conference for June 2021.

Highway Africa launches high-level media webinars

Highway Africa launches high-level media webinars

Reporting: Julian Jacobs

Editing: Francis Mdlongwa

Makhanda (Grahamstown), South Africa — Highway Africa (HA), the continent’s biggest and oldest conference series run by Rhodes University, has launched a series of high-level webinars that seek practical solutions to challenges that face African media and journalism in the era of Covid-19 and how to exploit emerging opportunities.

The first of these webinars was held on 30 June and brought together some of Africa’s leading media owners, editors and commentators, who shared their insights and experiences on ‘’The Future of Journalism and Media in Africa’’ during the 90-minute online seminar. The series is dubbed ‘’Our Futures, Our New Normals’’.

Covid-19, a novel virus that erupted last December, has killed hundreds of thousands of people across the world and decimated businesses and left millions of people jobless as governments shut their economies to try to arrest the pandemic’s spread.

Many media companies in Africa and across the world have folded because of the pandemic, throwing thousands of journalists out of their jobs in the worst health pandemic to hit the globe since the Spanish flu that killed millions in 1918.

In an ironic development, Covid-19 has also enabled some leading news firms such as  The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times of London to dramatically increase the number of their paying readers and thus increase their revenue as audiences frantically sought trusted news content on the pandemic. These newspapers had long placed their journalism under paywalls, which force readers to pay money to access news content hidden behind online gardens.

Sandra Gordon, a veteran magazine publisher and managing director of Stone Soup, a media group in South Africa, spoke at the webinar to urge African media houses to be creative and courageous and to collaborate to survive the disruption of Covid-19.

Gordon shared the high table of speakers with Styli Charalambous, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Daily Maverick, one of South Africa’s digital-only newspapers; Dr Roukaya Kasenally, an Associate Professor in Media at the University of Mauritius and the CEO of the pan-African Africa Media Initiative; and Julie Masiga, a leading media editor based in Kenya who has worked across Eastern Africa and is now an editor for The Conversation, an online opinion platform mostly for African scholars.

The webinar, staged with the support of the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, was moderated by Professor Anthea Garman, the Acting Head of the School, and Francis Mdlongwa, Director of the Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership and the acting director of Highway Africa.

A grim picture for print media

Gordon painted a grim picture of the state of print magazines in South Africa, where many magazines have closed their doors recently.

She did, however, highlight that there could be a way out for those wanting to buy into the magazine industry. “You have to have a modern business model, you need to change the way you do business, adopt new technologies, become innovative and involve yourself in e-magazines, events…and still maintain the ideals of the Fourth Estate to allow for freedom of expression and to protect it,” she said.

Masiga said the media in Eastern and Central Africa was already facing financial upheaval even before Covid-19, with many media houses closing down because of being deserted by audiences and advertisers, the latter the single biggest revenue earner for media.

Covid-19 had thus accelerated the closure of some media firms. “One way that could help is for media houses to digitize and tap into this market, especially as audiences make use of cellular phones to access news,” she noted.

Masiga said the move from traditional media to digital had created an environment where professional journalists were competing with increasing numbers of content creators, including audiences, and underscored the importance of journalists differentiating themselves by being truthful and accurate in an environment that had spawned misinformation and false news.

Charalambous reflected on his newspaper’s journey over the last decade and indicated that at first it was difficult to break even financially until they figured out a way to get the readers involved.

He said that over the last two years the Daily Maverick had launched a bold readers’ membership programme. Under this innovative arrangement, the Daily Maverick took steps to listen to its audiences’ news needs and wants and then provided them with cutting-edge investigative journalism.

“We also embraced new skills in our organisation such as people working on new business products, technology, innovation and marketing. We needed to sustain this going forward and we even employed community managers and membership managers, something we would not have done a few years back,” Charalambous said.

Kasenally echoed the sentiments of the other panellists and warned that “unless media houses do actual market analysis and make use of market intelligence data to navigate and plan the way forward, then the media in some areas in Africa will become obsolete.”

She lamented the trend of media houses merely going digital and creating an even bigger digital divide between those who have online access and those who did not. “There is a culture (in Africa generally) of not wanting to pay for (news) content and media houses need to be aware of this to change this culture,” she said, referring to paywalls, which propped up the financial fortunes of those media houses which produce unique, compelling and credible news content.

Kasenally called for the establishment of a Media Africa Solidarity Fund to help struggling media houses across the African continent to ride the Covid-19 storm. “Media houses must take up this opportunity to do things differently now, during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as create and develop (news) content that is unique and appealing to audiences, readers, and listeners.”

Highway Africa, established more than two decades ago, is Africa’s oldest conference series which has usually run annual conferences that are focused on developments of the continent’s journalism and media and are attended by hundreds of African journalists.

There will be no conference in 2020 because of Covid-19, but a Highway Africa summit conference is planned for June 2021.

The names behind the numbers

The names behind the numbers


Brazil has become a new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, reaching 20,000 deaths on May 21. The official numbers may be the tip of the iceberg as a study conducted by the University of São Paulo shows the country could have 14 times more infected cases than the number reported. There has also been exponential growth in hospitalizations and deaths from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), when compared to the previous 10 years. Deaths at home have also increased by 14.6% compared to 2019.

For Brazilian journalists, this created the challenge of telling the stories behind the numbers and of using journalism to help family and friends memorialize their loved ones when funerals and burials are limited by the virus.

Data journalist Judite Cypreste spent two weeks producing a map by municipality of COVID-19 cases in Brazil, but the work made her feel uneasy. “We needed to do a story where the numbers were the starting point and include the stories, the human [side of it],” she said.

Cypreste’s concern gave rise to the special report “Números Subestimados” [Underestimated Numbers], co-produced with journalist Luís Adorno and published on April 30. “This story shows that people are not numbers. It is important to give a face to the data to say that the pandemic is real, that it is happening, that the victims may be your neighbor, a relative. It brings the narrative closer to the readers,” said Cypreste.

Since April 4, Folha de S. Paulo, Brazil’s largest newspaper, has published the special “Histórias de vítimas do novo coronavírus” [Stories of victims of the new coronavirus], which lists obituaries by week. The G1 portal published the page “As vítimas da COVID-19” [The victims of COVID-19], a memorial that compiles stories about the lives of some of the people who died from complications of the new coronavirus. Other news organizations have followed, creating special coverage of the people who have died in the pandemic.


Telling the stories hidden under the statistics was also the driving force behind the launching of the collaborative memorial Inumeráveis [Innumerable]. Under the motto “no one likes to be a number, people deserve to exist in prose,” the initiative went live on April 30, inspired by artist Edson Pavoni and social entrepreneur Rogério Oliveira.

The stories for Inumeráveis come together through the efforts of volunteer journalists. “The numbers keep growing, and we must not forget that they mean people, who had a life of love, sadness, happiness, and who left friends and family. The memorial is a portrait, albeit a small one, of this anxiety of not knowing these people,” explained journalist Alana Risso, one of the project coordinators.

Faced with the speed of the pandemic, a group of eight individuals brought the idea to life in three weeks, and since launch, journalists and journalism students can volunteer to collaborate. “We know that no newsroom has enough staff to keep track of the cases, especially considering Brazil’s inequality, where so many places — the news deserts — don’t have a media outlet. So, the idea is to mobilize journalists from all over the country to locate the stories and remember the people who died,” said Rizzo.

Journalists can collaborate with Inumeráveis in three ways. They can report on a story and publish it on the website, upload an obituary that has been published by another media organization or review texts and transcribe audio sent by friends and relatives of COVID-19 victims. The website has a form to upload the stories, as well as contact information for collaborators. Everything that is published is fact-checked, following the initiative’s methodology. According to Rizzo, there are plans to transform the memorial into a print product in the future.

The day after Brazil passed the mark of 10,000 deaths by COVID-19, and two weeks before The New York Times’ front page project, newspaper O Globo devoted its entire front page to a long list of names, ages and phrases about the lives of some of the victims of the new coronavirus in partnership with the Inumeráveis memorial. Among the nearly 140 names, the headline read:

The special report, dedicated to mourning and honoring those who have died had two additional pages. In the text, journalists Rennan Setti and Gabriel Cariello explain that even when reduced to a number, the coronavirus’ lethality is enormous.

Memorial Corona Brasil

Another collaborative initiative is Memorial Corona Brasil, created by the Support Network for the Families of Fatal Victims of COVID-19, a group of 60 organizations in solidarity with the families of victims of the pandemic. Journalists can collaborate by editing the stories on the Facebook page according to the methodology developed by the network, helping comfort families or participating in a working group alongside historians and social scientists to think about ways to memorialize the pandemic.

“There is an experience of redefining how we mourn as we are trying to deal with it very strictly. Society is experiencing mourning and people are afraid. At this time, many people want to connect on social media to pay homage to the memory of those who have passed. Our work is a way to help with the ritual of saying goodbye,” explained historian Danilo César, one of the creators of the network. The network also compiles stories produced by other journalists and conducts their own research to create other forms of pandemic memory.