Securing health data in digital era

The healthcare industry is rapidly evolving with the integration of artificial intelligence.

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For a long time, the biggest problem has been how far we were from a hospital and what it would take to get to one. But now hospitals are coming into our homes, detecting diseases faster, with more accuracy and could soon be turbocharged by Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The digital revolution has caught up with the healthcare sector as firms sought to improve their overall performance which has shifted services online.

In the race to stay ahead, it has become crucial for the healthcare sector to deliver better patient care digitally. Digital transformation consulting services in the healthcare industry are implementing cutting-edge technology intended to boost productivity while also elevating patient care.

Consequently, there are growing opportunities in the diagnostics and healthcare sectors.

But this has created new vulnerabilities, and an ethical minefield given the sensitivity of medical records that have called for better digital health governance. This concept is a critical component in the advancement of healthcare involving striking a delicate balance between innovation and regulation.

The goal is to maintain ethical, efficient, and patient-centric healthcare delivery while safeguarding patient rights. Clear guidelines help to ensure that technological advancements in healthcare are ethically and efficiently implemented and that patients’ needs and rights are always at the forefront.

In Kenya, the national government has been keen on digital health governance with the introduction of the 2023 Digital Health Bill, a framework aimed at establishing and regulating digital health services in Kenya. This Act has established an electronic medical record system that has helped streamline patient health information exchange across hospitals.

From a private sector perspective, strategies for effective digital governance involve transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement. It is critical for private healthcare providers to leverage digital platforms to enhance service delivery, streamline administration, and promote good governance practices.

According to the 2024 Life Sciences and Health Care Generative AI Outlook Survey from the Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions, 75 percent of leading healthcare companies are experimenting with generative AI or planning to scale it.

Generative AI in health is beneficial in diagnosing diseases, optimising treatment plans and personalising learning.

China is the biggest market for AI and investment in AI in the healthcare industry.

As of 2020, the use of AI in the US and Canada had cut healthcare expenses by 25 percent and 12 percent respectively, allowing the underlying healthcare providers to dedicate resources to patient care.

In Africa, AI is used to manage datasets in Morocco to reading genomes in South Africa and analysing medical images in Ghana to tracking Covid-19 in Ethiopia.

The potential of AI for healthcare in Africa is particularly important given the global burden of diseases. For further advancement of AI in Africa, there is a need for AI-driven innovations that can address healthcare disparities, improve educational outcomes, and empower communities across the continent.

As digital transformation accelerates, cybersecurity emerges as a critical concern for East Africa’s development agenda.

Cybersecurity and data governance involve employing key strategies for safeguarding digital infrastructure, combating cyber threats, and protecting data privacy rights.

However, the digital shift has brought forth significant cybersecurity challenges. This underscores the pressing need for robust cybersecurity measures and the upskilling of the healthcare workforce in cybersecurity practices to protect against data breaches.

It is therefore critical to build resilient cybersecurity frameworks and foster a culture of cyber awareness to mitigate risks and vulnerabilities.

The WHO estimates that around five to 15 percent of the carbon emissions in developed countries derive from healthcare services.

During the 2023 COP28, 82 countries, including 30 in Africa, committed to developing climate-resilient and low-carbon health systems with 38 of them also committing to transform their health systems to be more sustainable and low-carbon and 28 setting a target date to reach net zero carbon emissions on or before 2050.

Other African countries are now more than ever challenged to make formal commitments to develop climate-resilient health systems.

By embracing innovation, collaboration, and inclusive development strategies, East Africa is poised to chart a course towards a more prosperous and resilient future in the digital age.

Khan is Aga Khan University's global chief information officer and Prof Gatiti is  Aga Khan University Associate Vice Provost and university librarian. 

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