The future of healthcare is dependent on investment in digital assets and data
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During a recent Dublin Chamber event Paul Reid, CEO of the Health Service Executive gave great insight into the HSE’s response to the Covid-19 crisis and the impact the crisis had on both the current and future delivery of care in the Irish healthcare system. Paul Reid outlined that creating an environment where decisions could be made and acted upon quickly was central to its response strategy. This strategy came with an acknowledgement that sometimes the wrong decisions would be made. This is not unexpected in the face of a healthcare tsunami which left health systems around the globe grappling to deal with a lack of beds, medics and equipment, not to mention a critical lack of data and no road map.
Behavioural science will tell us that left un-aided human beings are not the best decision makers. We tend to find and interpret information in a way that confirms our prior beliefs and we often don’t consider the global set of alternatives or realise that key data may be missing. All of that makes us ill-equipped for decision making during a crisis. We saw this play out with terrifying consequences in the early days of the pandemic when governments and policymakers from the UK to the US interpreted the data in a way which focused on facilitating the least disruptive way out of the crisis at the expense of public health.
It is not surprising then, that in the aftermath of a crisis we lament the fact that we lacked the data we needed to respond appropriately. We have seen this with the banking crisis of 2007 which showed regulators that they had far too little information about vulnerabilities in the financial system thus prompting the development of more sophisticated data capture going forward. The current health crisis should prompt us to ramp up investment in the collection of public health data so that data scientists, developers and policy makers can be facilitated in building ethical and robust data infrastructures for health care systems of the future upon a foundation of reliable data.
Development of such infrastructures and the use of big data in healthcare is not without challenge and there are a myriad of legal and regulatory issues to navigate.
Given the pace at which big data is employing artificial intelligence and machine learning in solutions means that the regulatory environment is constantly playing catch-up and the lack of clarity inhibits innovation.
Navigating the patchwork system of global personal data legislation, which includes four distinct data zones and a dearth of legislation in many jurisdictions is also problematic in implementing cross border solutions.
New data infrastructures will also heighten cyber security concerns for health systems. With the role out of 5G and more connected devices, the implementation of the right security controls will be more critical than ever.
It is imperative that stakeholders work together to overcome these obstacles in order to implement the big structural changes that are required in the health systems in Ireland and across the globe. If anything, the “America First” for vaccination strategy or the EU v AstraZeneca supply debacle have illustrated that we need to adopt a One World approach for any long term healthcare transformation to work in a post Covid environment.
Better public health data is key in resourcing a move to a health system that is agile, patient centric and community based. The legacy of Covid-19 in the healthcare system could be that short term priorities stifle long term advancement or it could be that decisions in healthcare are made at pace, based on reliable global data and in the knowledge that they are more than likely the right decisions.
Given the right investment and drive, Ireland is well placed to become a recognised leader in the global digital health revolution.
This article first appeared in Dublin Chamber Weekly on 6 May 2021.