Ensuring digital health solutions help, not harm

A healthcare risk prediction algorithm used on more than 200 million people across the country was found to demonstrate racial bias.

One-third of the top 100 hospitals in the U.S. were found to be using a tracking tool called Meta Pixel to collect and send patients personal health information to Facebook without their consent.

Pulse oximeters – digital products that use infrared light beams to measure the amount of oxygen in the blood – have transformed the way we care for people with conditions from heart failure to COVID, but are inaccurate for people with dark skin.

How do these egregious practices pass through development and testing to become part of our lives?

As an industry, healthcare is just scratching the surface of the benefits digital health solutions can provide. As we harness new flows of data, deploy innovative methodologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning to gain actionable insights and to automate processes, and use the phones in our pockets to connect with our doctors, the opportunity to reimagine how we care for people in the digital era is enormous.

Digital health solutions can automate mundane tasks and extend the reach of clinical teams, helping to address the current clinician staffing crises and to increase access to high-quality care, particularly for those who have traditionally been underserved. Digital innovation can support personalized approaches to care delivery, ensuring that every patient gets access to the care they need when they need it. Perhaps most importantly, healthcare digitization offers a chance to fundamentally reimagine how we care for people, moving away from our current sick care model and towards actively promoting health through better screening, prevention and early intervention. 

Rapid advancements in digital health should be celebrated, but they are outpacing both the laws and regulations that ensure the trustworthiness of healthcare and the current workforce’s ability to recognize potential risks of harm.

Industry leaders are collaborating to advance the ethical, effective, equitable and safe use of digital technology to redefine healthcare and improve lives. The digital medicine community is driving scientific progress and broad acceptance in digital medicine to enhance public health.

As the broader community embraces the digitization of healthcare, we have a moral responsibility to establish and implement a culture of ethics as we define what it means to care for people in the digital era.

At this moment in time, it’s imperative to get this right. Ethical approaches must be applied to the development and deployment of digital solutions, and the responsibility of ensuring that these tools and approaches help rather than harm is shared by every one of us in the field.

Absent such ethical approaches, patients will lose trust in the most powerful tools our industry has ever seen, which would waste the potential to address the most pressing and persistent challenges in our field. The digitization of healthcare is critical for addressing the crises in our current system – from skyrocketing costs to rampant health inequity to clinician shortages to incurable diseases. Digital solutions offer enormous promise, but only if we develop tools and solutions worthy of trust.

This is why DiMe, along with a guest faculty of leading experts, researchers, advocates, clinicians and technologists from around the world, created the Applied Digital Health Ethics course. This ethics course is designed for everyone working in the digital health ecosystem. From product designers and developers to clinical operations to engineers to data scientists, manufacturers and executives, each role in the field will learn valuable tactical skills and applications in this course, as well as how to work together to create a culture of ethics. This is the first step in setting our industry up for success through building trust.

Click here to access the course and learn more about how to build a more sustainable healthcare system that will gain the trust of those we are designed to serve.

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