Health is becoming personal, predictive, and preventive through advanced technologies – wearable devices, embedded sensors, artificially intelligent robots, and virtual reality headsets. A deluge of data and feedback generated by these technologies nudge consumers to engage in healthier activities, or are aggregated and analyzed for insights about diverse populations across geographies. Major technology companies are investing in solutions powered by “big data” that promise to improve the health of populations worldwide. The opportunities appear boundless.
Despite this promise, ethical, legal, and social concerns associated with these technologies have emerged, which could very well hinder benefits to health. The US federal government has targeted several health technology companies that are unable to support their scientific claims with compelling evidence, and studies demonstrate that insufficient privacy and security features underlying such technologies can lead to harmful effects for users. If these challenges are not proactively mitigated, the potential improvements to health may not be realized at scale.
Overcoming these issues requires the collective views of disparate stakeholders and cross-sector collaboration. One voice is not as powerful as multiple in unison. As a start, colleagues from Vitality, Microsoft, and the Qualcomm Institute at the University of California, San Diego published an open-access, peer-reviewed commentary that called for a public consultation to identify best practices to eliminate ethical, legal, and social barriers to health technologies. For 90 days in 2015, a wide range of stakeholders offered input on a draft set of guidelines for the responsible innovation of health technology and the appropriate stewardship of data from these devices. Feedback came from organizations such as the EU Commission, the US Food and Drug Administration, the National Academy of Medicine, and the American Heart Association.
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