Responsible Technological Innovation for Health


By Gillian Christie

Personal, predictive, and preventive: this describes the next generation of health care. Innovative technologies – wearable devices, embeddable sensors, artificially intelligent robots, and virtual reality headsets – are generating cascades of data in an attempt to spur healthier behaviors by individuals and uncover novel insights by researchers. Technology companies, including Apple, IBM, and Microsoft, have significantly invested in “big data” solutions that aspire to advance health for all.

The promise of technology and the potentially revolutionary benefits to health that it may entail could be hampered by ethical, legal, and social implications. In recent months, the US federal government hastargeted companies developing health technologies that cannot substantiate their scientific claims with compelling evidence. Otherstudies indicate that inadequate privacy and security components within these technologies can negatively affect users. Any potential improvements to health, either among individuals or entire populations, may not be realized if these concerns are not sufficiently addressed.

The collective action of stakeholders from across sectors is needed. As a start, Vitality, Microsoft, and the Qualcomm Institute at the University of California, San Diego published a commentary that called for a public consultation to identify best practices to eliminate ethical, legal, and social barriers to health technologies. Between July and October 2015, stakeholders offered feedback on a set of guidelines for the responsible innovation of health technology and the appropriate stewardship of data from these devices. In March 2016, Vitality released the finalized guidelines for personalized health technology. They included five recommendations:

  1. Build health technologies informed by science: Integrate scientific and behavioral evidence into the design of health technologies to better understand health risks and outcomes.
  2. Scale affordable health technologies: Develop cost effective health technologies that are accessible by all populations to minimize health inequalities.
  3. Guide interpretation of health data: Facilitate interpretation of health data through software design to support better health literacy.
  4. Protect and secure health data: Embed privacy and security design features into health technology to ensure end to end protection.
  5.  Govern the responsible use of health technology and data:Disclose practices associated with the governance of health technologies and data to create shared values for all stakeholders.

In short, technologies that improve the public’s health should be informed by science, affordable, safe and protect the user’s health data. Implementation of the guidelines will be led by a working group convened by Vitality. The guidelines will be measured independently using tangible metrics, and results would be shared in corporate reports. They seek to shift the dialogue around health technologies to promote shared values for all stakeholders. The guidelines are not an attempt to preempt government regulation, but aim to fill holes where needed in existing regulatory frameworks.

A responsible approach to innovation of health technology can be proactively considered today, or regretted tomorrow. Emerging technologies can have tremendous potential to advance health, or hinder the progress we have made in recent decades. The guidelines are one approach to ensuring benefits can be realized for all using technology.

A copy of the Guidelines has been uploaded to the RRI toolkit where users can provide their feedback.


Gillian Christie is a Health Innovation Analyst at The Vitality Group. She is the lead author of the Guidelines for Personalized Health Technology. You can follow her on Twitter @gchristie34, and Vitality at @VitalityUSA.

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