In the rapidly evolving landscape of healthcare technologies, digital consulting professionals play a pivotal role in guiding medical institutions towards successful integration. However, this task is not without its ethical complexities. This month’s Editor’s Question delves into the essential ethical considerations and guidelines that should underpin their work, ensuring that the deployment of new healthcare technologies and digital strategies not only enhances patient care but also upholds the highest standards of integrity and responsibility.
Chris Bradshaw, Strategy Director, Infinum
When implementing new healthcare technologies and digital strategies, digital consulting professionals in the medical field operate within a stringent ethical framework. This intersection of technology and healthcare necessitates a heightened commitment to patient well-being, data security and regulatory compliance.
Patient privacy and data security take precedence. Data security protocols, encryption and access controls to safeguard sensitive medical information is essential, particularly to ensure protection against unauthorised access or data breaches. Compliance with regulations such as HIPAA (in the US) and GDPR (in Europe) is not merely encouraged but mandatory to ensure patient confidentiality too.
Informed consent is another crucial responsibility. Patients and healthcare providers must be fully informed about how their data will be used, with the option to consent or opt-out. We’ve all seen extensive digital terms and conditions that individuals accept without fully reading so transparent communication is vital for maintaining trust and respecting individuals’ autonomy.
The accuracy and reliability of data form the foundation of digital strategies. Validation of data sources and algorithms is essential to prevent a misdiagnosis or an incorrect treatment recommendation, ensuring patient safety. This also feeds into mitigating bias. Actively identifying and rectifying biases in algorithms, data sources, and user interfaces to ensure equitable care for all patient demographics prevents against discrimination.
Building the technology itself also comes down to accessibility. Digital tools have to be designed with diversity in mind to ensure all patients, regardless of socioeconomic background, language and abilities are supported. To get this right it takes clear communication with all stakeholders and ensuring clear testing throughout the development process with real users. Incorporating feedback is essential to make this process successful. Rigorous testing is a prerequisite for any technology implementation. It should align with evidence-based medical practices to guarantee its reliability and utility in improving patient outcomes.
Healthcare is fragmented with a variety of organisations and individuals involved throughout the processes from patients and doctors to referral units and multiple hospitals and specialists. Therefore, interoperability is crucial for seamless communication among healthcare providers and systems, reducing fragmentation in healthcare services.
Once a digital technology is developed, the work has only just begun. Continual monitoring and evaluation are essential for assessing technology performance and patient outcomes, ensuring ongoing efficacy.
In conclusion, digital consulting professionals in the medical field must operate within an ethical framework and prioritise patient privacy, data security, transparency and equitable healthcare delivery. It is a complex area, but essential to get right. By upholding these principles, they can contribute to the responsible and effective adoption of healthcare technologies, ultimately improving patient outcomes and the quality of care.
Neil Mason, Principal Consultant, Methods Analytics
When implementing new technology or digital strategies in healthcare, a number of ethical considerations come into play. Firstly, safety, which may be regulated when it applies to medical devices, and increasingly to AI, but due to the wide reach of data, may be more difficult to assure than ever before.
A second issue is fairness, across a number of domains, for example, with digitally enabled services, are all segments of the community equally and sufficiently able to engage with a service, perhaps through their smartphones? In addition, are the technologies biased, either through their design or the data that may have been used to train or build part of the system?
Privacy is a third consideration, and one of particular concern as we become ever more digital. The trend is for technologies to collect as much information as possible, however, systems employed in healthcare should be careful to collect only what is necessary for a purpose, and this collection and processing needs to be underpinned by clear communication of what will be done with any data and an easy way to opt out. A serious ethical question is how to enable people to access a service who are unable to or do not wish to consent to such data collection.
A new concern in the age of data science is where a system may be able to infer characteristics of people based on other data points. The design and testing of digital systems needs to be rigorous to ensure that these inferences are limited and understood as far as possible. Finally, in regard to privacy, security is a major consideration, and the use of suitably tested secure environments and protocols is crucial.
Additionally, transparency is a key ethical consideration today, particularly as some digital systems now act as a black box, with few people able to explain how a technology comes to the conclusions it does. As patients and service users become more tech-savvy, clear explanations need to be in place to build trust.
Frameworks to help consulting professionals include legislation such as GDPR, which functions as a useful reminder of a number of ethical principles as well. In addition, when applying data science and machine learning, frameworks such as that designed by The Institute for Ethical AI and Machine Learning offer applicable steps to ensure advancements bring benefits to services and users in an ethical way and without bringing harm.
Ravinder Singh, Senior Vice President, Consulting at CitiusTech
As a healthcare digital consultant and a consumer, I often reflect on what sets the healthcare business apart from others. While there are many anatomical differences, the most significant distinction I have observed is the high concentration of compassion and human touch required in everything that it needs to deliver to its stakeholders.
As digital consultants take on the important role of shaping the future of healthcare, the ethical code of beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy and justice extends to the work they perform in advising healthcare executives and developing strategies that will touch lives at scale.
Given the criticality and impact of digital in healthcare, consulting professionals should consider applying a few aspects and demonstrating specific behaviors to keep the guardrails of ethical digital healthcare in place in the quest for profitability, and revenue balanced with outcomes and experience.
- Start with empathy and then move to efficiency: The healthcare business has a diverse and large set of stakeholders with competing and conflicting priorities. With outcomes and equitable healthcare as non-negotiable goals, consultants should always prioritise the patient journey and their diverse needs first.
- Adopt regulations in their spirit: As healthcare digital consultants, regulations and changes play an influential role. It is our moral responsibility to ensure that we adhere to all regulations while preserving their intended purpose; we must avoid letting regulations become lost in piles of checklists and process designs.
- Maintain confidentiality of patients and client IP at all costs: Digital consultants thrive on data but must handle healthcare data with utmost care and sensitivity due to privacy and ethical concerns.
- There is no way around sustainability: Healthcare is a resource-intensive industry and requires a conscious focus on driving sustainability of resources while designing next-generation healthcare by eliminating waste by design.
- Do not forget the healthcare professionals: Patient centricity has been a key focus of all digital transformation in healthcare. However, considering the limited bandwidth of high-value healthcare professionals like physicians and nursing staff, consultants should also prioritise designing digital models.
Keeping these considerations in mind, digital healthcare consultants shall develop and demonstrate a few key behavioral traits to consistently demonstrate the healthcare ethical code.
- Thorough discovery: The healthcare landscape’s intricacies demand deep, data-driven discovery. Accurate advice and future models hinge on credible evidence
- Challenge the status quo: While meeting stakeholder needs is vital, challenging their views with evidence is equally crucial. Avoid biased recommendations that could harm patients
- Know your limits: Healthcare’s vastness requires humility. Recognize your limitations and seek expertise where needed, especially from therapy area specialists for tailored solutions
- Verify data: Healthcare data is complex and may have limitations. Ensure data sources are trustworthy, complete, and accurate, validating them against real-world practice