Digital disruption in healthcare has swung into the mainstream over the last 12 months and is heating up as investors turn their attention to what they see as a ripe and relatively untapped market – especially in Europe.
We are seeing the inevitable and welcome digital reinvention of healthcare, including the pharma and life science industries. The tools used for everything from clinical care to consumer research are being given cyber-makeovers and the future is looking more efficient, responsive and patient-focused as a result.
Which all seems good news for entrepreneurs, who have created all kinds of disruptive gadgets, ideas and inventions they claim the sector needs to step into the 21st century. But is it good news for the sector on a broader level? As much as it’s important to innovate and push the boundaries amidst this 4th industrial revolution, it’s vital we remember this is not about changing how people hail a ride or book a holiday rental. Changes in healthcare can have a literal life or death impact on patients.
I’m a first-wave digital entrepreneur, passionate about how new powerful tools we have such as mobile phones linked to wearables can dramatically improve care. However, I am also an Anaesthetist by training and can see just how an Uber-style disruptive goldrush will harm healthcare.
I strongly believe we must be careful not to throw patient privacy and data protection out with the paper clinical notes and luxurious conference entertainment. The health and care regulatory environment is complex and comprehensive for good reason.
Protecting confidential information is crucial in any area, but protecting health and care information is right at the top of the cybersecurity tree – second only to financial data in its value to digital pirates. In fact, some in the data security protection business claim medical data – which can be used to create fake IDs to buy equipment or drugs or make false insurance claims in the US – is sold for up to 20 times the price of credit card information.
So, needless to say, ensuring it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands is of the utmost priority.
Unlike other industries that have been upended by digital disruptors first while regulators have had to play catch-up, health and care innovators need to work in partnership with authorities to embrace a digital evolution. The slap-down Google received from UK regulators following its DeepMind project with a leading London hospital shows what happens if corner-cutting is attempted with valuable data without the right permissions.
And this is not just about hospitals and other HCPs handling patient data. We need to look at all the new ways we are starting to communicate to make sure they are safe and comply with data protection laws around the world. The GP clinical discussion group on Facebook, the junior doctors using WhatsApp to communicate about patients on the wards and the Outpatient Departments sharing results via SMS messages, all need to reconsider their approach to ensure that confidential information is kept safe.
And as the industry moves towards patient facing apps and websites to attempt to optimise therapy success, it needs to be one step ahead to avoid red faced apologies at best. At worst, legal action by patients is a huge risk if systems are not sufficiently secure, such as those faced in 2015 by insurer Anthem which allowed hackers to easily infiltrate its data by not providing basic security such as two-step sign-ins and regular password change prompts.
Ultimately an uber-style rush to market, where the philosophy has been take first, clean-up later, cannot be allowed to happen in healthcare. Responsible entrepreneurs that are inspired to improve health and care, know this, and will stand ready to work with regulators and the industry to deliver a digital health evolution that transforms care with safety always in mind.
Dr Felix Jackson is founder and medical director of medDigital and medCrowd