Physician viewpoint: Digital health needs its own Hippocratic oath

The vast differences between the technology and healthcare industries have led to several high-profile missteps — including Project Nightingale, Theranos, IBM Watson Health and more — and necessitate a new set of guidelines for health-tech partnerships in the years to come.

In a recent op-ed for STAT, Thomas Maddox, MD, executive director of the Healthcare Innovation Lab at BJC HealthCare and the Washington University School of Medicine, both in St. Louis, and Simon MacGibbon, CEO and co-founder of Myia Health, called for the optimization of "the marriage of healthcare and technology." To do so, they proposed the introduction of a Hippocratic oath-style set of guidelines governing how the public is kept informed about every aspect of a digital health initiative.

"Let's proactively tell patients, the broader public and every employee within our own organizations what we're doing and why. Let's say to everyone exactly how patient data will be used, how it will be protected and how our work might benefit people in the long run. And let's promise, publicly, that the data won't be used for any other reason than to benefit patient care," they wrote.

This transparency is crucial not only for the success of digital health initiatives, but also for the advancement of healthcare.

"Patient data is an incredibly valuable asset: It is the fuel for creating intelligent tools that could make healthcare better and cheaper. There are ways to manage this information safely and ethically," Dr. Maddox and Mr. MacGibbon wrote."But that message must be explained more clearly going forward, and health and tech companies must do a better job respecting and alleviating the concerns people have — even before they have them."

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