Responsible innovation in healthtech

Health & Education

As our wold becomes more digital, we are always finding technology that can help makes our lives easier; innovation in the technology sector has been increasing throughout my life. However, a recent article penned by the Financial Times talks about a topic we don’t really used in tech: responsible innovation. 

Sure, using technology for everything in our lives would be great, but is it responsible? The article recalls how regulation for new technology always come too late, i.e., seat belts in cars, privacy protections for internet users, moratoriums on facial recognition technology, and so on. 

Innovation should come alongside ethical development.

The article really pushes the narrative that while technology regulation is essential to the public good, it is intended to protect people from measurable damage rather than foresee or prevent it in the first place. 

For healthcare technology, the article focuses on three simple points we can practice responsible innovation:

  • First, enfranchise patients, community organisations and vulnerable groups. The Covid-19 pandemic has made it clear that healthcare systems are often ill-equipped to serve the people most in need of care. Community health workers and organisations create a bridge between healthcare systems and marginalised community members.
  • Second, adopt multidisciplinary approaches. Healthcare is highly dependent on data: lab results, patient histories and other factors critical to understanding individual and population health. But they often lack important context, such as people’s access to fresh food, insurance, transport or stable housing. These factors can determine a person’s ability to afford medicine, follow treatment or gain access to care in the first place.  
  • Third, complement “big” data with “small” data. One of the biggest challenges in healthcare innovation is “small” or “sparse” data — data that are often lost, overlooked or stored on multiple, disconnected spreadsheets. Examples include patient histories scattered among community health facilities, urgent care centres, pharmacies and hospital emergency departments. 

While the article talks about responsible innovation in healthcare specifically, we can apply that concept to all other sectors too. Just because we can build it, doesn’t mean it’s always better.

And while my generation is always distracted by the next newest shiny object in the tech world, it’s important that we recognise responsible innovation and that technology should be inclusive for all of us.

We need to broaden our approach to responsible innovation to encompass methods that are inclusive by default and empower all people.

By Anusheh Khan on 23/02/2022