Big data, big opportunity: building an ethical future for health tech

Big data, big opportunity: building an ethical future for health tech

Big data means big opportunity, but what are the ethical implications of tapping into health data as a public resource? And are we even collecting what we need?

The health care sector has experienced a wave of digitisation in recent years and health tech innovators are racing to provide new data-driven solutions for clinicians and patients.

According to a recent report from the International Data Corporation, the use of big data is increasing faster in healthcare than in any other sector.

This is opening the door to new ways of translating clinical knowledge into cures, improving patient experiences and developing new preventative care strategies, but the dilemma of who owns patient data and how we give informed consent, as well as the difficulty of collecting and maintaining accurate datasets, are major hurdles.

As demonstrated by many Australians choosing to opt-out of the government’s My Health Record, security and privacy are front of mind when it comes to data and health.

In the first Global Business Innovation Conversations event for 2019, RMIT brought together a panel of experts from across the sector to discuss the challenges and opportunities for innovation.

L-R: Anne Laure-Mention, Director Global Business Innovation, RMIT, Olga Kokshagina, Research Fellow, RMIT, Dorota Gertig, Renee Newman Knake, David Stephens, Rallas Buttriss and Bronwyn Le Grice.

Whose data is it anyway?

Managing Director and CEO of Australia’s National Digital Health Initiative (ANDHealth) Bronwyn Le Grice said people are smart enough to make informed consent when it comes to sharing their data.

“They should be given the choice, and besides that, you can’t simply monetise data, you have to sell a solution,” she said.

“Data itself is not a business. We need to make meaningful insights from data to generate real outcomes that have benefits for people.”

Medical Director of the National Cancer Screening Register at Telstra Health, Professor Dorota Gertig, said we need to consider who decides what the public good is when talking about open data.

“When we talk about data, we’re talking volume and velocity. Whether it’s a small amount of information about everyone, or a lot about you, there are risks regarding privacy and consent.”

Emphasising the need for quality in big data sets, Gertig said to ensure we provide high quality data, healthcare staff need to be trained to collect it accurately and consistently.

Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at RMIT, Renee Newman Knake, said these ethical issues were not limited to the health sector, with ownership, privacy and autonomy posing huge ethical challenges when it comes to using big data across the board.

Quality versus quantity

Describing himself as a fan of open data, Department of Health and Human Services Chief Data Scientist David Stephens said the challenge for government organisations was making data sharing sustainable.

“We can upload large datasets into the cloud and make them available to researchers and healthcare practitioners, but how do we update those data sets and make sure they’re managed on an ongoing basis?”

Stephens said open data needed to be more targeted to be truly useful.

Australia is currently second in the world when it comes to government providing access to big data, something being used to facilitate population planning among other things, Head of Health at DB Results, Rallas Buttriss, said.

“We need to not be afraid, we have to keep innovating and find solutions in this space because there is great opportunity.”

The Global Business Innovation Conversations are a series of research-driven events exploring the latest innovation predicted to propel the future of business in health, manufacturing and finance. Find out more and register for future events

Story: Grace Taylor

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