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Realising the new normal of healthcare, through digital identity

By July 17, 2020Blog

I was fortunate to recently chair a thoroughly informative and lively webinar on realising the new normal of healthcare, through digital identity on 27th May, in partnership with Mastercard, and I would like to give you a taster of some of the discussion points from the event.

During the one-hour session I was joined by four leading experts in this field;  Dan Johnson, Vice President, Identity Products Cyber and Intelligence Solutions Mastercard, Dr. Sally Eaves, Professor and Strategic Advisor on Emergent Technologies, Dr Manreet Nijjar, Co-Founder, truu and James Monaghan VP Product at Evernym.

In the “new normal” era we face, the speakers unpacked how digital identity fosters the shift of day-to-day healthcare needs to digital channels by bringing together personal health data, empowering doctors to provide ‘telemedicine’ and effectively implementing services such as contact-tracing.

During the webinar, there was discussion on the need to meet individuals’ needs in this digital era and the requirement of collaboration from all parties involved. One of the big takeaways from the session was that by working together, the industry can collectively accomplish what is impossible alone: convenient, secure, smart digital interactions that work better for all of the world’s population.

The webinar included discussions on bringing health data together, contact tracing and the need for global interoperability and how medical teams can be empowered to provide telemedicine.

In his introduction, Dan Johnson defined digital identity as “a way of proving who you say you are”; something that is “much harder to do online”. Johnson commented that since the COVID-19 emergency started, “people are interacting online way more than before”. He said that in the old normal (before COVID-19) that “this event would have taken place in a physical venue” and there “had been a remarkable increase in shopping online”. As a result of COVID-19 there is a “demand for new credentials to support the increasing adoption of digital services”. According to Johnson, “there isn’t really a suitable digital identity service to support this demand”.

Specifically, on healthcare “there is currently no efficient way of sharing healthcare data, especially outside each trust network or boundary”. In reference to telemedicine Johnson believes that it is “more and more important to have a safe and secure method to provide both identity of patients and doctors alike when they are accessing telemedicine services.”

Johnson talked about contact tracing being a “very emotive topic” and asked the panellists their opinion on the matter. Dr Nijjar explained about how “doctors are engrained with confidentiality when discussing their patient’s health” and that there is a risk that technology “could take this away from doctors”.

Dr Nijjar discussed the relationship with trust and digital identity; “Trust is the biggest thing that we as doctors have but as we move more into the digital world digital identity becomes crucial”.

Dr Sally Eaves echoed the importance of trust with healthcare data saying that “trust is imperative” and then expressed her concerns on collection of healthcare data; “there are concerns over what will happen to healthcare data collected for contact tracing after the emergency situation improves. Will this data be used for other reasons other than keeping people safe?” Dr Eaves recommended that communication with patients and citizens should be transparent to ensure that there is trust in the system and cited the example from Australia where there was communication to say, “that this data will not be used for any other reason”.

Dan Johnson concluded this session by saying that he agreed with the other presenters on trust and collection of healthcare data and cautioned that there could be “a temptation to create a solution just for now”. He had been introduced to the term “honest but curious” by a fellow identity professional and believed that this term was very pertinent now in that “healthcare data collected for COVID-19 purposes may be used for other reasons and this could have a negative effect on trust between patients and healthcare providers”.

There is much debate about the merits of centralised versus decentralised digital identity and I asked the panellists their opinion on the subject. Dr Eaves believes that decentralised models are preferable as it “builds trust and ensures that patients retain control.” She cited the partnership between Google and Apple as “being seen as a good decentralised model” but warned that the “acceleration of innovation comes at a risk”.

James Monaghan made a very important point about framing the discussion and explained that “the trend towards decentralisation is about recentralisation around the individual – centralisation around me”.

Dr Nijjar provided a particularly poignant explanation in his comment on the centralised versus decentralised debate with the example of the UK NHS Red Book (a paper book used to hold medical information about new born children); “in the physical world, the decentralised model is something that we have had for some time in healthcare with the maternity red book. The book is held safely by parents and is presented to healthcare professionals to log a baby’s weight and height etc and to record a child’s immunisations. Later-on in a person’s life, healthcare records become centralised. There is an argument that says we should continue with the ‘red book’ model” by making all of our healthcare records and our digital identities decentralised.

If you would like to hear all of the discussions, then please tune in to our YouTube channel where you can watch the whole session.