Data vs. Doctors

With the rapid progression in wearable devices and a greater global reliance on big data, the role of the GP is changing dramatically. But what does it mean for our trust in human decisions and the accuracy of diagnoses? Read on as I explore what the future might hold for the medical profession as we journey towards an ever-more digital lifestyle.

 As the juggernaut of technology and big data rolls out a revolution of how we live, healthcare stands in its lane. Though doctors have typically been wholly trusted with our health, the notion of the doctor as sole diagnostician and decision maker is being chipped away by our greater reliance on data.

Through wearable consumer devices such as a Fitbit, or the Health app that comes ready-installed on every iPhone, the average patient today is capable of walking into their local GP surgery already equipped with the tools to monitor issues such as their heart rate, nutritional intake and sleep pattern before even speaking to the doctor.

The medtech industry’s early ventures into consumer-friendly technology has resulted in a number of relatively inexpensive products, which will pave the way for an ever-greater pool of information and data in the future. In most instances, it is improving patient care, enabling doctors to remotely monitor things such as their patients’ drug adherence whilst having a greater overview of how a treatment is working. For many, there’s a sense of unease as we embrace this brave new world of patient data. For others, it’s the beginning of a revolution in the empowerment of patients.

With patient data enabling software to deliver laser eye surgery, there’s no reason, in theory, why you couldn’t extend that to more major invasive surgery. Revolutionary, yes, but with major legal roadblocks. For insurers and healthcare organisations, this step into the unknown (or better known as it may turn out to be) opens up the important issue around digital malpractice, lengthening the chain of responsibility to software developers and the accuracy of data and cognitive reasoning.

As we venture further down the path of big data, we’ll have to consider whether mishaps fall into the category of negligence or product liability, particular as we move through a period in which doctors have to work in tandem with data as it is gradually introduced into diagnostic practice and medical care.

Add to this the complication of having multiple products on-the-go, and things become even more complex. Without the stringent standardization you find in existing medical manufacturing, you cannot guarantee that new medtech products will ‘talk’ to each other as they should. Wearable tech may prove incompatible or only partly compatible with certain software, meaning patients could have a case of action against their doctor for the latter’s choice of product(s). In this scenario, are they now doctors or technology experts?

What’s clear is that the risk is multiplying for all involved in the delivery of healthcare in the digital age. As technology, patients and doctors feel their way together, we’re likely to see a myriad of new issues cropping up. The price of progress, one might argue.




This is a guest article by Greg McEwen, partner at insurance law specialist BLM

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