If digital technology is to succeed in transforming health care, robust governance structures need to be in place, a new report argues
"Health is rapidly becoming a high-stake domain owing to dynamics such as the increasing economic relevance of health data and the growing appetite for digital solutions in the health-care sector.” Governing health futures 2030: growing up in a digital world (report from the Lancet and Financial Times Commission)
A radical rethink on digital health technologies is required, otherwise they will fail to bring about improvements in health for all, according to a new report.
Governing health futures 2030: growing up in a digital world, a report from the Lancet and Financial Times Commission, says that digital transformations should be considered as a key determinant of health. But it also argues that a “precautionary, mission-orientated, and value-based” approach to governance is crucial.
The report is the result of a collaboration between the Lancet and Financial Times to explore the convergence of digital health, artificial intelligence (AI), and other frontier technologies with universal health coverage (UHC) to support attainment of the third Sustainable Development Goal, which is to ensure health and wellbeing for all.
It argues that digital tools allow for “unprecedented reach” into people’s everyday lives, and are being used in many countries for “surveillance and political purposes”. Within this context, it argues, “health is rapidly becoming a high-stake domain owing to dynamics such as the increasing economic relevance of health data and the growing appetite for digital solutions in the health-care sector.”
As big technology companies increasingly drive digital health and the wider health economy, the report notes, “proper checks and balances are needed to avoid health systems being affected by digital development pathways guided by merely economic gains.” Governments should also limit the “massive data extraction practices” of powerful private sector actors through “stronger competition and data protection policies.”
The report makes four main recommendations. One is to address the role of digital technologies as determinants of health. Governments, in partnership with private sector and civil society, should “close all digital and health divides by 2030, including by achieving universal, affordable, safe and meaningful connectivity as a human right and as a public good.”
The second, most urgent, recommendation, is to build a public trust architecture for digital transformation of health. By 2025, it says, all governments should adopt country-wide strategies to safeguard health and digital rights, “including regulatory measures to protect children and young people against online harms”.
Third is to enact an approach to the governance of health data on the basis of solidarity. By 2023, the report says, governments should develop a “clear international taxonomy of health data, globally agreed rules and processes for health data sharing, and international standards for health data interoperability.”
The final recommendation is to invest in the enablers of a digital transformation of public health and universal health care. By 2025 all national governments should “enhance the content and implementation of their digital health strategies, including by making use of a comprehensive digital health readiness assessment framework…and adopting health data governance frameworks and costed digital health investment roadmaps.”