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Digital Health 2021

COVID-19: The importance of building citizen trust

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Dr Charles Alessi

Chief Clinical Officer, HIMSS

The pandemic continues to have significant effects upon digital transformation. It has accelerated its adoption, as digital modalities have become the choice for access to treatment in this age of contagion.

As clinicians and patients have embraced telehealth, the issues which have always acted as a barrier to mainstream adoption have not disappeared. However, their influence on the rapidly changing landscape is different from what we had got used to.

Addressing the digital divide

There is far less resistance to adopting telehealth in the clinical community. Partly because there is no real alternative in some cases, and it offers advantages to both parties in protecting them from nosocomial infections. There is a major workforce management transformation area of work still outstanding however, as many clinicians still have all the advantages of digital communication yet to discover. 

Citizens and patients have adopted these technologies quickly. Whilst there are still issues associated with the digital divide to address, people have welcomed the easier access and immediacy that digital communications offer.

We need to ensure people have assurance that we will have the capability to safeguard their data from unwarranted data breaches.

Does this mean that the debates around secondary use and trust have been resolved? This does not appear to be the case. Indeed, discussion around the balance between the right to privacy of the individual and their duty to their fellow citizens have dominated conversations.

The adoption of digital solutions around contact tracing is a case in point.

Voluntary adoption has been challenging

Adoption of novel technologies during the initial stages of the pandemic by populations who had the ability to exercise choice was disappointing. This was true in countries as diverse as the UK, Europe, and the Far East. The latest attempts to increase adoption seem to encompass increasing levels of mandating as a result. 

There is still lots to do. We need to reopen the examination about the advantages to citizens and data being shared and aggregated to gain insights. We need to ensure people have assurance that we will have the capability to safeguard their data from unwarranted data breaches, and also from unwarranted requests for access from a whole range of agencies, some private, some public and governmental. 

We need to engage with people now and at scale. It is possible these discussions will be contentious and in many respects that is to be expected, since levels of trust have inevitably been eroded by the pandemic – but engage we must, and with some urgency.

HIMSS TV Deep Dive

Learn more in our HIMSS TV Deep Dive which outlines how COVID-19 will remain a challenge in 2021, but the vaccines raise hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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