Fortune’s April 2018 cover story, “Tech’s Next Big Wave: Big Data Meets Biology,” conveys loudly and clearly that technological innovation is transforming the health care continuum—changing the way care is delivered, as well as how patients manage their ongoing health—and as patient demand for health innovation increases, more companies seem eager to hop on the digital health bandwagon. The article provides a thoughtful, realistic (and somewhat sobering) perspective on digital health innovation’s successes and other results to date. It also quite effectively uses real world stories to convey the human dimension of digital health. One is the story of a mother who manually sampled and recorded her son’s glucose levels 20 times a day before an automated monitoring system connected to a mobile app allowed them both to live their lives without constant interruption by this critical care management function. Another describes use of an artificial intelligence “command center” to expedite access to life-saving surgery by a man with an aortic dissection. These real-world examples drive home the fact that digital health is already making a profound difference in our lives by removing barriers to care that are critical to saving lives and managing chronic diseases.
What the article does not touch on, however, are the myriad, complex legal challenges that must be addressed at the earliest stages of the planning process and the intensifying interest of government oversight and enforcement bodies, such as the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Securities and Exchange Commission, interested in protecting the safety and privacy of patients and consumers. Just last month, we saw the SEC charge Theranos’ CEO Elizabeth Holmes with fraud for allegedly misleading investors about the company’s ability to detect health conditions from a small sample of blood. Earlier this year, another “unicorn” start-up, Outcome Health, settled with the federal government after The Wall Street Journal reported that they allegedly misled advertisers with manipulated information. The United States has also brought claims against the private equity company investor of a compounding pharmacy that allegedly paid illegal kickbacks to marketing firms to induce prescriptions written by telemedicine providers for costly compounded drugs reimbursed by TRICARE.
Opportunities and Challenges of the Patient Data “Gold Rush”
Eric Topol, MD, director at the Scripps Research Institute, told Fortune that “the quest to retrieve, analyze and leverage” data “has become the new gold rush. And a vanguard of tech titans—not to mention a bevy of hot startups—are on the hunt for it.” There is no doubt that harnessing and analyzing big data provide virtually limitless fuel for digital health innovation of the type patients and consumers are demanding and that tech companies are eager to develop and commercialize. While optimism about the quest for big data is certainly justified, it must be tempered by caution and careful consideration of complex, multi-dimensional legal [...]