Debate: Developing global health technology standards: what can other industries teach us?

Globalization and Health
[Accessed 19 October 2013]

Developing global health technology standards: what can other industries teach us?
Hassan Masum, Rebecca Lackman and Karen Bartleson
Globalization and Health 2013, 9:49 doi:10.1186/1744-8603-9-49
Published: 17 October 2013

Abstract (provisional)
There is a lack of effective and affordable technologies to address health needs in the developing world. One way to address problems of innovation and affordability is to design global health technologies to follow agreed-upon standards. This Debate article argues that we can better develop standards for global health technologies if we learn lessons from other industries.

The article’s Background section begins by explaining why standards are needed in global health. For example, if global health technologies can be modularized into independent interfacing parts, these parts can then interact via well-defined standards in a “plug and play” fashion. This can avoid development of mutually incompatible solutions by different organizations, speed the pace of innovation, unlock health systems from single providers and approaches, and lower barriers to entry. The Background then gives a brief primer on standards and discusses incentives for health standards. The article’s Discussion section begins with brief relevant cases of standards development from other industries, including electricity, container shipping, CD standards, Universal Serial Bus (USB), and the Internet. It then explores lessons from these and other industries that suggest how to develop standards for global health technologies. The remainder of the Discussion considers intellectual property and regulatory issues and standards-based global health business models, and ends with a checklist of considerations for health standards development leaders. (The associated Additional file discusses observations from standards development for cell phones and semiconductors, as well as challenges in the standards development process itself.) Throughout the article, point-of-care diagnostics are used as an illustrative example. An initiative is already underway to explore standardized diagnostics platforms.

This Debate article aims to convince the reader that standards can benefit global health technologies if we learn lessons from other industries. The article draws from historical examples and the authors’ experiences to suggest principles, challenges, and opportunities in developing these standards. If implemented well, standardized platforms can lower barriers to entry, improve affordability, and create a vibrant ecosystem of innovative new global health technologies.