Tackling trust and privacy in digital health

By Asad Khan

Asad Khan, Managing Director – Technology, Health & Public Service Lead, Southeast Asia, Accenture, shares the way forward for healthtech.

Welcome to the age of digital healthcare.

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital solutions and tools in supporting healthcare needs. Chatbots, for example, emerged during the crisis as an important way of managing demand for information about symptoms, treatment, and scheduling.

According to our research, more than half (55 per cent) of respondents in Singapore reported willingness to engage in virtual healthcare services, with 17 per cent having already done so. Yet our survey also showed limited consumer confidence in chatbots and other digital tools.

Trust and privacy issues remain key barriers

Despite having one of the most technologically savvy consumer bases, the number of Singapore consumers who use digital tools to manage their health looks to have been declining even before the pandemic. The use of wearable technology, or devices that collect health data such as fitness and vitals, decreased from 47 per cent in 2018 to 38 per cent in 2020.

There is also an overall lack of consumer trust in digital healthcare versus traditional healthcare services. Less Singapore consumers would recommend digital healthcare services compared to their medical doctors, based on the effectiveness of their diagnosis and treatment (45 per cent versus 67 per cent).

These consumers are also sceptical of the effectiveness of digital healthcare tools and services, citing this as one of the top three barriers to going digital with their healthcare.

In addition, consumers have mixed feelings about sharing their health data via digital devices. While half of Singaporeans said they would be comfortable visiting or interacting with a chatbot, computer, or digital device for health or medical purposes, nearly one-third (30 per cent) said privacy and data security concerns were the number one barrier to using these devices for their health questions and care.

The way forward

Consumers today expect more from their digital experiences. They want to feel important and as if the healthcare organisation recognises and takes notice of them. Gone are the days of mass services and black box personalisation.

Healthcare payers and providers need to redesign digital experiences with new models that amplify personal agency and thereby their capacity to act.

[blockquote]"Gone are the days of mass services and black box personalisation."[/blockquote]

Consumers must feel comfortable with how their information is used; they want some control in the process. Healthcare organisations can help turn these formerly passive audiences into active participants by transforming one-way experiences into true collaborations.

Building confidence

Prioritising privacy and security will also be key to building confidence in digital healthcare. This includes creating strong data security policies and investing in cybersecurity programmes to build greater cyber resilience.

Healthcare will also need to practically demonstrate to consumers how their data is secured. They need to be transparent on how certain data is being collected and used, and ask for consent.

For example, a global non-profit cooperative that serves as a trustee for data collection could help to ensure citizens’ control over their personal data. Members with an account can grant access to their personal data to actively contribute to medical research and clinical studies.

Users select which data they want to share. Members are informed and can participate in decision-making processes – and they can withdraw their personal data at any time. All datasets are encrypted and only the user can access his or her data set.

Hybrid healthcare

Healthcare organisations can establish a hybrid care plan that comprises both physical and digital care. This hybrid model will rely on seamless, coordinated care that provides people with the right attention, services, therapies and products anytime, anywhere, to instill confidence, safety and respect.

Providing additional financial support or incentives can also promote greater use of digital healthcare services. This is especially since Singapore consumers ranked finances as one of the greatest motivators in driving digital health adoption and engagement.

Organisations should combine financial support, incentives and engagement with doctors and leaders in digital health initiatives to leverage their authority and their position of trust.

Undoubtedly, the effects of Covid-19 have created a surge in digital healthcare usage, signifying a fundamental shift in the way people manage their health. Healthcare payers and providers can act during this time of change to win back the trust and consumer confidence that has eroded.

Those organisations that design future services to provide transparency, choice and more control will differentiate themselves and earn back consumer confidence, one interaction at a time.

Asad Khan is Managing Director in Accenture’s Health and Public Service practice. He leads the health practice and solutions group for Southeast Asia and is currently based in Singapore.

He has more than 25 years of experience in leading large-scale health business strategy, IT transformations, delivery, and implementations. Asad is passionate about transforming healthcare using innovative technologies to drive changes in the way healthcare is delivered and consumed, leading to lower cost and improved health outcomes. Outside of Accenture, Asad is a guest lecturer at the National University of Singapore (NUS) on Digital Health, IoT Healthcare & Smart Nation, and AI.