Opinion: Strong data sharing policies can boost health care in emerging markets

Health care professionals in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Photo by: Paul Malaluan / Photo House Media / CC BY-NC-ND

Emerging markets are expected to generate more than 60 percent of the world’s data by 2020. So it’s not surprising to discover that many emerging markets are currently trying to strengthen their legal and regulatory frameworks in order to properly deal with the challenges and opportunities created by this information explosion. When we consider that a significant percentage of that data will likely be from health care technologies and systems — and that this data will affect health outcomes -— the need for clear priorities and practices to manage this data is heightened even further.

There is a demonstrable connection between data sharing and improved patient experience. According to the Future Health Index research, commissioned by Philips, survey results showed patients who share data from connected care technology, as well as the health care professionals who receive this data, are more likely to view the overall health care experience in their country positively. Connected care technologies that help gather and share this kind of meaningful data could hold the key to significant improvements in health care personalization and delivery.

In developing markets, the potential for both the adoption of connected care technologies and sharing the data to drive better outcomes is already in a strong position. According to the FHI, 75 percent of patients surveyed in emerging markets own or use connected care technologies, while 65 percent of HCPs surveyed in emerging markets think their patients understand when they should share data from connected technology with a health care professional.

Nearly three-quarters of health care professionals surveyed in emerging economies see a future where everyone owns devices, software and mobile applications to help manage health. In developed countries, only 44 percent feel the same. Emerging countries also appear to be relatively early adopters; in the UAE and South Africa, 73 percent and 48 percent of health care professionals, respectively, feel connected technology is already often or always being used when patients are being treated for a medical condition.

Addressing data privacy

While there are myriad contributing factors that influence the adoption of connected care technologies and data sharing practices, a significant one is data privacy. Widespread concerns about data privacy that affect other industries in this information age are often even more of a hurdle for health care. Health data is perhaps the most personal and sensitive type of data and people are reluctant to share it until they trust organizations to protect it. Guaranteeing privacy and earning trust are prerequisites if we are to engage the general population in new digital innovations.

The good news is that when it comes to emerging markets, many health systems are beginning from a relative position of strength. Data privacy currently appears to be less of a concern for patients in these markets, perhaps contributing to their higher likelihood of using connected care technology. According to the FHI, only one-fifth of patients surveyed in emerging markets think privacy concerns or data security are the top barrier to adopting connected care technology; compared to nearly a third -— 31 percent -— in developed markets.

This isn’t to say that data privacy isn’t a concern in developed markets. Cultural factors in markets such as South Africa and Brazil indicate that individuals feel very strongly about their right to privacy as citizens. But establishing new data sharing systems requires overcoming fewer institutional or legacy systems.

So, just as important as creating legislation is addressing the sometimes deeply entrenched cultural attitudes around how people perceive and react to new regulation. Alongside the rollout of any new systems, it is imperative that all players in the health care system are reassured that the regulation is designed with collective and mutual benefit in mind — in other words, that the regulation can and will enable rather than deter better outcomes.

Singing from the same hymn sheet

Another major hurdle is infrastructure and interoperability. When health care professionals collect all of the relevant data from connected care technology, it needs to be collated in a way that can be updated and accessed by all of the relevant parts of the health care ecosystem. Patients will also need to be educated on what data to share, when, and with whom. In fact, seamless interoperability through standardized solutions is not only a prerequisite to unleash the full potential of the data, but also to protect it from abuse: advanced data protection technologies that allow rigid deployment of consent-based data access work smoothest if all systems that touch the data speak the same security language.

To implement this structure will be a major challenge; however, there are initiatives beginning all over the world to tackle this head on. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued guidance on interoperability, which includes considerations for designing systems “with interoperability as an objective;” conducting performance testing and risk management activities; and publicly specifying functional, performance and interface characteristics.

What this means for emerging markets

Many emerging markets are in the relatively early stages when it comes to developing regulation, standards or policy around privacy of any kind of data. As the subset of health care data is already on the radar as an area that merits specific consideration, there is immense potential to establish a robust and fit-for-purpose structure from the bottom up.

The tendency of emerging markets to embrace technological change more rapidly than developed countries, where legacy technologies often stand in the way of adoption, is a big advantage. The notion that they can “leapfrog” holds significant potential in delivering improved health care and there is no reason why the corresponding legislation and regulation shouldn’t follow the same pattern.

For providers and policymakers alike, the onus will be on ensuring that legislation is designed to deliver the best possible outcomes for health care issues already being faced in market, as well as those that are yet to come. While there are some indications of the roadmap that technology innovations will take, effective regulation and legislation must be based on enabling desired long-term health care goals, and identifying the most likely human behaviors that will affect them, rather than focusing solely on the specifics of how today’s technologies work.

For more Devex coverage on global health, visit Focus On: Global Health

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Jan Kimpen

    Jan Kimpen leads the clinical leadership team at Philips — working with physicians, research teams and customers to co-create integrated health care solutions that support improved patient outcomes and better experiences at lower cost. He joined Philips from UMC Utrecht, one of the largest health care organizations in the Netherlands, where he served as CEO.