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.
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!
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