The emergence of technology in health tech companies is raising questions over privacy.
If one looks all around it shows that health has become an integral part of our existence and lifestyle. At the same time with the advent of the digital world, healthcare has become a highly lucrative business for certain companies. The picture of a robot meticulously doing surgery is not a science fiction story anymore. It is the ground-level reality as Robotics is being utilized for medical purposes. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are being used with great vigour in health-related research and activities. No wonder, in this revolutionary process health data becomes a force to reckon with. This is precisely where the important and sensitive question of privacy raises its head.
No one is going to oppose the high-tech role in health-related research and activities as health is the foundation of human wellness and well-being. But the use of data is something that cannot be left unattended. The health tech companies are acquiring data but whether such data are being properly protected is an issue of public concern. Privacy occupies the central place in one such concern. What is coming under scrutiny is the sense of responsibility of the concerned companies that have acquired a huge quantity of health data. Investigative studies reveal the highly unethical practice of a number of health tech companies selling personal data of patients for commercial purposes. It needs no special ability to realize that such practice thrives on unsuspecting patients who are not informed of the act. The data selling networks are there in both the developed and the developing countries and in many cases, data circulates across the borders.
There is no doubt that the issues involved here are extremely sensitive. In any case when one is affected by ill health, not just mental but also physical, a patient s/he becomes more sensitive and highly emotional. On top of it, one’s health data is connected to one’s sensitivity and emotion. If one finds that the privacy of one’s personal health data has been compromised it will certainly add to the agony of the person.
The health tech companies on their part must also understand that data selling is not necessarily a risk-free game. If they are caught in the act by the regulatory agencies or by civil society organizations, and this has happened a number of times in countries like the UK and the USA, they face the inglorious experience of court cases and/or bad media publicity. It is no way adds to their credibility and it does not also make good business sense in the long run.
Credibility is also intimately connected to trustworthiness. Health tech firms in their own interest should ensure patients’ trust in them. When it comes to digital health information and data, it is found that such trust is dwindling. The Accenture 2020 Digital Health Consumer Survey can be referred to here. It identifies privacy, security, and trust among major concerns of the consumers and their assessment of the health tech companies. It mentions that trust in tech companies has declined as more than half of consumers (55%) do not trust these companies to keep digital health information secure. When asked “how much do you trust each of the following organizations or people to keep your digital healthcare information secure?” doctors ranked as second-most trusted (83%)—following hospitals (84%) — tech companies ranked second from last (45%).
Privacy is not just another issue. It is a basic human right. When the health data are added to it, it becomes all the more important with wide-ranging ramifications. Even in countries like India, which is new to the world of digital health care infrastructure, data protection has become a major concern of the government of India. This is why the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission incorporates it with due care. The health tech companies better take the privacy issue seriously in order to have a ‘healthy’ business of their own.