Healthcare is undergoing a rapid digital transformation. With a shortage of over seven million physicians, nurses and other health workers worldwide, combined with the challenge of caring for an aging population and the growing epidemic of chronic disease, the need for adopting innovative technology to help address these issues has become paramount.
Healthcare technology enables us to monitor, measure and record symptoms, helping us to become more aware of our health and predict any potential issues. Data on human health can now be captured and analysed at an unprecedented level and scale, with innovations in machine learning and adaptive algorithms even providing credible predictors for the risk of diseases.
Erosion of trust in healthcare
Despite the overarching benefits of health technology: from more effective drug trials, streamlining the healthcare system and enabling the prevention and early detection of medical conditions, this burgeoning sector is unfortunately plagued by one issue – lack of patient trust. With the collection and application of data playing such a significant role in the future of our healthcare system, we must examine what has triggered this mistrust.
Regular cyber security attacks reported in the media make patients increasingly concerned about the security of their sensitive health data. In 2016, NHS hospital trusts in England reported 55 cyber-attacks, with the risk predicted to increase this year. Across the pond, a recent report by Michigan State University revealed that hundreds of major hospital data breaches have gone unreported in the US with almost 1800 data breaches occurring in more than 200 hospitals.
While cyber security risks continue to increase, the data protection landscape has evolved significantly meaning that cybersecurity and liability of data collection, application and secure management are being heavily regulated. Healthcare organisations now have no margin for error. The incoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), due to be implemented in May 2018, will impose heavy fines on any company mishandling EU consumer data.
However, despite the stringent regulatory landscape, patients are feeling no less reassured. With the media’s scaremongering headlines overshadowing the benefits, combined with low trust in the healthcare sector in comparison to other industries globally, as reported by Edelman’s 2017 Trust Barometer, patients remain hesitant. Our Trust Barometer also highlights the need to close the gap between consumer expectations and perceived industry performance, when it comes to the protection of consumer data and quality control, as well as organisations demonstrating transparency and authenticity in their actions.
Trust has been eroded further by the misuse of patient data. Google DeepMind’s collaboration with the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust to assist in the management of acute kidney injury, was announced without explicit or transparent details of patient consent and was met with public scrutiny impacting Google’s reputation in this sector.
Also, the rise in fake health technology apps has contributed to the issue. As part of a study commissioned by Mozilla, it was revealed that a handful of first time smartphone users in Kenya downloaded an Android app which misdiagnosed them with HIV, causing considerable alarm. This has put Google under pressure to embed warnings in some apps to help negate this type of situation.
Additionally, the increasing issue of ‘fake health news’ is causing huge concern. Last year, on Facebook, out of the 20 most shared articles with ‘cancer’ in the headline, less than half were credible. Unfortunately, misinformation published on Facebook and conspiracy websites often overshadows reputable health news.
From data security issues, dubious health technology apps and fake news currently outweighing the core industry benefits, patients are in a nebulous situation. They’re extremely nervous about giving the industry access to their data and often confused about what it’s being used for and why.
Trust and transparency are vital to educate and reassure us about health technology. Patients need to understand why their data is so crucial for the future of healthcare, how it will be used, what measures are in place to secure and protect it, and who is accountable. To overcome the continual scaremongering media headlines, clear, evidence based communication combined with real life examples that reinforce the benefits will be critical in achieving this.
And this shift in mindset won’t happen overnight. The NHS and wider healthcare and technology organisations need to focus on working together to reassure patients and gradually change behaviour by earning their trust.