Global Digital Health Series, part 2: Teaching DH Concepts through Play


By: Ariel Frankel, Director of Public Health

The Global Digital Health Forum kicks off today, the leading networking and learning event for policy makers, practitioners, and tech professionals who are passionate about improving health outcomes in low- and middle-income countries through digital innovation. As the Director of Public Health at TechChange, I’ll be there to share one of our latest educational tools on digital health, developed with our colleagues at USAID.

Can you guess what it is? Hint– it’s not a policy paper, text book, worksheet, or even a video. 

It’s a… game.

Surprised? Digital health concepts and tools can be complicated, but they don’t have to be boring. Play is an important – and often underutilized – way that we can put learning into action, in a way that’s fun and practical. 

Players work as a team – online or in-person – to respond to new investments and new shocks to their digital health system – mirroring what happens in real life.

A Collaborative Game with Real-World Elements

Architects of Digital Health is a collaborative game that represents multiple years of building a digital health system in a fictional country that is facing challenges from HIV/AIDs, cholera, malaria and tuberculosis. Players, joined together in a team, have the ability to make investments in digital health tools, for scale or interoperability. Then, just like in real life, unexpected events and pressures cause problems for your intervention and your team has to decide how to handle it. There are new investments and shocks every year, impacting how your interventions unfold. 

The different interventions represent key building blocks of a digital health tool box: 

  1. messaging systems like SMS and WhatsApp; 
  2. community information systems like Commcare or MobileCHT; 
  3. electronic medical record systems; and 
  4. digital systems to train the healthcare workforce. 

In the game, you can add or remove systems, scale them to the next level, or invest in interoperability and governance. The goal is to fight fragmentation and achieve national level scale on coordinated interventions. 

Putting Learning into Practice Through Play 

We use this game as a capstone learning activity in our digital health course, created and hosted by TechChange and supported by USAID, PATH/Digital Square, the WHO and others. Digital Health: Planning National Systems is an online course that teaches policy makers and practitioners the knowledge, skills, and attitudes they need to design and implement digital health interventions. Participants use the key concepts and best practices from the course to play the game, working together to minimize shocks and scale beneficial systems.

More than 200 mid- to senior- level ministry of health officials from a wide range of nations including Laos, India, Zimbabwe, and the Philippines have already participated in the course and used what they have learned to inform their national digital health strategy.

Play Architects of Digital Health at GDHF22 or at Home 

USAID’s Merrick Schaffer leads a round of “Architects of Digital Health” at the Frontiers of Digital Development Forum 2022

Want to learn more about the game or give it a try? If you are attending GDHF, come by our virtual session and we’ll teach you how to play. We’ll also be demonstrating it and playing in small groups at GDHF online (on the TechChange hybrid events platform) on Tuesday, Dec. 6 at 9am EAT / 8am CET / 2am EST. 

If you’re not able to join, you can print your own copy of Architects of Digital Health for free, including all the instructions you’ll need to follow along. Feel free to use this instructional aide in any of your trainings or workshops – we invested in it so that it could become a learning tool for the field. 

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