Bernardo Mariano Junior, CIO, Director, Digital Health, Information Management & Technology, World Health Organization
With artificial intelligence (AI) and data technologies transforming the healthcare ecosystem, how can we ensure health data benefits everyone, namely, the data owners (individuals), the platform or technology owners, the policymakers, the consumers of the technology, to name few?
AI - a digital technology highly dependent on health data - is evolving rapidly, holding great promises to transform the health of individuals, healthcare ecosystems, and the entire population.
From the human rights perspective, article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects the right to privacy of an individual. However, in the new digital care world reality where healthcare data is treated as a digital specimen, the individual is not adequately protected when a person’s body-generated information can be traded off without consent.
Shouldn’t we all explore ways to expand the healthcare payment concept and have people pay for digital care in the future with their own health data?
Evolving AI and its’ Promises
If biotechnology and information technology, inclusive of AI, progressively meet, it opens promising new areas for the coming decades for borderless general population access to digital healthcare. The promise must accelerate the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3, which states that by 2030 everyone at all ages shall enjoy healthy lives and wellbeing.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is currently developing a global strategy to improve health for everyone and everywhere by accelerating
the adoption of appropriate digital technologies for health towards attaining the health-related SDGs. The global digital health strategy has four key strategic objectives:
• Promote global collaboration and advance the transfer of knowledge on digital health
• Advance the implementation of national digital health strategies
• Strengthen governance for digital health at global and national levels
• Advocate for people-centered health systems that are enabled by digital health
To realize the full potential and the benefits of AI in a healthcare ecosystem will require new capabilities and collaboration of all stakeholders to continue to promote innovation, set new policies, laws, standards, guidelines, and regulations. It will require a paradigm shift to understand the driving force underpinning the AI revolution and its high dependency on quality and high volumes of data for rapid advancements in health knowledge.
While recognizing the advances of the digital transformation of countries such as Estonia, we should remember that disparity in quality, safe use, and access to AI and digital health technologies in low-income and underserved communities is a reality that should not be amplified with the digital transformation of the healthcare sector.
• Health Data, the New Blood
As some digital health experts like to put it, health data is the new blood. Drawing parallels from this analogy also exposes some fundamental dynamics connected to health-data regulation, especially the data representation in human rights in the digital age.
An individual can make a voluntary blood donation as a public good or opt to get remunerated by giving blood to a private establishment. Both scenarios come from the conscious decision of the individual. This calls for a universal framework, addressing rights and ethical issues while promoting the establishment of key principles on data open-source, data open-collaboration, data-free flow with trust that is flexible and adapted to the health ecosystem in the digital age.
AI and digital health must accelerate access to essential health services to half of the world population that still lacks access. 100 million people every year are pushed into poverty due to out-of-pocket health expenses, and AI and digital health must lend their support to drastically reduce these numbers. We all can do better! Let’s do it!
Disclaimer: The author is a staff member of the World Health Organization. The author alone is responsible for the views expressed in this article, and they do not necessarily represent the decisions, policy or views of the World Health Organization.