“These are the days of miracles and wonders
Don’t cry baby, don’t cry”
The Boy in the Bubble: Paul Simon
After every major digital health conference I seem to come away with the sound of Paul Simon’s Boy in the Bubble from his 1986 Graceland album ringing in my ears.
The recent #HIMSSEurope19 conference in Helsinki, Finland was no exception.
As always – and seemingly with increasing rapidity and volume at these conferences – there were demonstrations of new innovations, start ups and other impressive tools facilitating how care can be delivered more effectively and efficiently. Miracles and wonders.
But to the credit of the HIMSS organizers they also had sessions focusing on the dystopian elements of health technology – the B side of the digital revolution if you will. In fact, there was a whole stream of sessions called radical health dealing with issues such as climate change and migrant health. To quote the program: “The world is currently witnessing an unprecedented global migrant and refugee crisis that will fundamentally affect and challenge European health systems in the future. And these migration waves will only accelerate with climate change refugees. Are European health systems ready for a tsunami of migration waves? What can we do in order to prepare? Can technology help the integration of migrants and refugees?”
However, a more fundamentally troubling session was the one that featured a number of futurists and researchers discussing the potential downsides of technologies which are fueling our advances in digital health
To quote @Artu Olesch, a freelance journalist who attended the session: “As human species, we develop slower than the technology. On the other hand, we have to keep experimenting in search of innovations that can potentially improve our world. Unfortunately, there is always the danger that radical technologies created for a good purpose will influence our lives negatively.”
This negative side was expounded with great eloquence by the speakers who referenced the social-control aspects of technology as being seen in China now, the impossibility of maintaining anonymity of health data (“two data points and we have you”), the potential consequences of Big Data and the use of AI in health care (especially if the algorithms used fail to reflect women and those who are not white) and gene editing (which, to quote one speaker, “is liking having nuclear weapons in the hands of apes”).
When you hear speakers such as biohacker Teemu Arina (@tar1na) talking about the need to modify our genetic code to adapt to today’s fast-changing society you realize the magnitude of the changes we are currently facing and how unprepared we are for them.
The session made it clear that a future in which people will trade their personal health information and approve real-life constant monitoring of their health in exchange for lower health insurance rates is very, very close indeed.
(Image courtesy of Go Clipless)