Tougher measures for digital health data

There have been growing concerns over how countries use medical data in their approach to digital health care. One of the key issues that has been consistently discussed is how patient data is collected and used for medical purposes by large companies.

A joint commission report by the Lancet and Financial Times, ‘Governing Health Futures 2030’, was recently published addressing data mining issues. Specifically, the report urges all government officials to introduce tough new measures that will monitor the use of digital health data to avoid human rights abuses and medical inequalities. The commission argues that any transformations will not deliver health benefits for all without fundamental and revolutionary realignment.

The report calls for public bodies to increase transparency and accountability in the use of artificial intelligence by creating a governing institution to track how tech companies use data. As such, the institutional body would also be responsible for balancing commercial use against public benefits. The report favours limiting massive data extraction practices by powerful private sectors through stronger competition and data protection policies. Given the famous Alphabet Inc scandal, where patient data was collected without consent, such an institution would prove to be necessary in resolving the lack of transparency surrounding data sharing agreements.

Furthermore, one of the pillars of the report focuses on how youth digital health should be built upon a human rights-based approach. Here, the objective is to reduce the weak governance of digital technologies that can potentially result in violations of the rights to health. This echoes the need for government officials to empower individuals to participate in their digital health development and implementation so that no one is left behind. Moreover, this framework could lead to ‘data solidarity’, an inclusive and equitable digital transformation in digital health. This would increase the quality of health services and provide a scope of easy-to-reach health information.

Finally, the report offers a solution to ‘transform the digital world so that technologies that work for health offer a data solidarity, digital trust and accountability to advance health equity and reconciling privacy concerns and public value’. Alongside this, digital technologies must be aligned with the right to health and its basic standards: availability, accessibility, acceptability, and quality. As this is one of many reports created towards achieving a sustainable future, it will be interesting to observe how international organisations, health care providers, the private sector, and national governments will recognise the recommendations from the report.


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