Data is now the world’s most valuable resource. Collecting this data and putting it to use could bring enormous benefits to humanity, but could also carry huge risks. What happens if personal data falls into the wrong hands? Or is misused by governments or private companies?

On the one hand, nobody wants their data to be abused. On the other hand, as long as proper safeguards are in place, perhaps the chances of that happening can be reduced? Few would argue in favour of the completely unregulated harvesting and exploitation of personal medical data by private companies. A frequently-cited risk, for example, is that insurance companies may decide to charge more based on an individual’s health data collected from apps. However, if robust data protection laws are in place, does that change things?

Healthcare technology is at the cutting edge of this debate. Huge technology companies are moving into the health arena, and their input could potentially be revolutionary; driving down costs, boosting efficiency, and helping to create more sustainable (and affordable) healthcare systems.

In this regard, our sister think tank Friends of Europe has launched a report including 7 key recommendations on how to meet the challenges that come with ageing populations, unhealthy lifestyles, shortages of healthcare workers and increased demand for care. You can read the full report here.

Curious to know more about the risks and opportunities of new healthcare technology? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).

What do our readers think? We had a comment from Mormel, who was worried that increasing use of health apps could lead to more surveillance of users. Is he right to be concerned? Or is he being paranoid?

To get a response, we spoke to Serge Bernasconi, CEO of MedTech Europe, the European trade association representing the medical technology industries. What would he say to Mormel’s comment?

For another perspective, we also spoke to Bart Jacobs, Professor of Software Security and Correctness, Radboud University Nijmegen. How would he respond?

Next up, we also spoke to Miguel Gonzalez Sancho Bodero from the European Commission, who is head of the team at DG CONNECT responsible for eHealth. What would he say to Mormel?

This risk indeed exists. European legislation on data protection addresses it. Service providers having access to personal data, eg via apps, must comply with obligations regarding information to users, user consent and others. National data protection authorities track the breaches of those obligations. A group of European stakeholders has recently developed a code of good practice on privacy and health apps.

But do the potential benefits of new health technologies, including health apps, outweigh the risks? What does Serge Bernasconi from MedTech Europe think?

What about Professor Bart Jacobs? What would he say are some of the benefits of new health technologies? And are they worth the risks?

Finally, how would Miguel Gonzalez Sancho Bodero from the European Commission respond?

Technology has countless (and growing) applications in the health area, for the benefit of patients, citizens (before the reach the patient stage), health and social care professionals, and healthcare systems in general. Many of these applications involve collecting and processing data, notably personal data relating to health and lifestyle of individuals. Preserving the privacy and security of that data is a pre-requisite of any digital development, especially in the area of health, where even human lives may be at stake. This will ensure that the risks and accidents (which will always be there) will be far inferior to the many advantages, as I think is the case today.

Technology and healthcare: Threat or opportunity? Could increasing use of health apps could lead to more surveillance of users? And do the potential benefits outweigh the risks? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – N i c o l a
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11 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. Karlo Definis

    I hope people who agree enjoy not using Defibrillator when you get VF or tachycardia, for starters…

  2. Paul Vincent

    The future !…..robotic diagnosticians…..micro machines disposing medicines in blood streams….gene therapy…….can’t wait.

  3. catherine benning

    Technology and healthcare: Threat or opportunity?

    Both, threat and opportunity!

  4. Gonçalo Carriço

    Like in every new technology, it has both threats and opportunities. The Internet is such an example, you can use it for the good and for the bad. What we should seek then is the right balance. And this is a shared responsibility; be it governments, institutions, companies and citizens. What all should avoid is the temptation to try to stop it or endeavour in protectionism; because one thing is sure: healthcare technology will come (like in so many other areas – education, farming, manufacturing, etc) no matter if you accepted it or are prepared to it. So I would rather accept it and try to be prepared as much as possible. Putting efforts on mitigating possible risks (or those able to be predicted so far) and on making that transition as smooth as possible especially regarding trust.

  5. HanY2

    One of the life goals of humanity is to simplify the life as much as possible. Therefore the significance of the evolution of technology is very important. But the question of security is not in the developers rather than in the users, since some of us feel sometimes, that we need to have more power, etc. I think we need to focus more on the education and healthcare, in order to reduce the reason to attack humanity in any way as much as possible.

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