They will discuss how to best deploy digital technology— and its lifeblood: data—to advance the health of individuals and populations. Part of their deliberations will focus on how to foster trust and co-operation within and across countries to bring forth this important agenda.
But, why are ‘soft’ elements like trust important in an area that is principally about technology and science? Moreover, why is it a concern for political leaders and policymakers?
Health Systems are Foregoing an Opportunity to Expand Knowledge
Modern health systems are awash with data. These data have a range of principal uses ranging from clinical to administrative. However, because digital information can be shared at minimal marginal cost, these data can be re-deployed towards other important purposes such as research or public health interventions.
However, in stark contrast to other industries, health systems rarely put their data to work in this way. Indeed, only a minority of OECD countries regularly link available datasets for research. The consequence is that in many countries, it is hard to detect whether healthcare treatments and services produce a good outcome for patients or a poor one, such as deaths, readmissions to hospital, inappropriate prescriptions, or gaps in needed care. It is also very difficult to use real world data to advance medical science and provide new treatments and better services.
Failure to use data to generate new knowledge is a lost opportunity. However, the key challenges—which include (legitimate) concerns over privacy and a lack of common data exchange standards—cannot be solved by technology. They require trust and co-operation among stakeholders.
Trust through Good Governance
Personal health data are very sensitive, which means trust is critical in enabling their use. Patients and the public must be confident that their data are secure and protected and, if re-used, that this serves purposes that are in accordance with their values and preferences.