Healthcare should be equitable and inclusive – online and off

‘A key challenge will be to ensure that digital transformation of health care is equipped with professionals’ says Elizabeth Farries, Assistant Professor in the UCD Digital Policy Programme.

21st October, 2020
Healthcare should be equitable and inclusive – online and off

What's your name and what position do you hold?

Elizabeth Farries, Assistant Professor in the UCD Digital Policy Programme.

What are your day to day responsibilities?

I am contributing to the development of a new digital policy programme at UCD which aims to fulfil demand for digital policy knowledge and skills in Irish and European policy ecosystems. This programme is the first of its kind here. We welcomed this September our first cohort of students in our MSc in Digital Policy and this December we will be launching a week-long certificate of professional development which is open to students at the EU level. We are also prepping to open a UCD Centre for Digital Policy. All programmes are designed to prepare graduates for careers in evaluating, implementing, and studying core topical, theoretical, and methodological issues that arise in digital policy today. Watch this important space!

What is your professional background?

I was called to the bar in Canada and have a practice background in litigation, intellectual property, and human rights. I additionally have policy experience with the Canadian provincial government; have provided legal services to indigenous and impoverished clients in criminal, family law, and human rights matters; and have published work with and sat on the executive board of several NGOs. Prior to joining UCD, I directed the Information Rights Programme for the Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the Surveillance and Human Rights Program for the International Network of Civil Liberties Organisations. I lecture and publish at the intersection of tech, policy and human rights.

How do you think the healthcare sector is coping with the Covid-19 crisis?

This is a complex question that is still under evaluation. There are new policy challenges as governments seek tech solutions to the Covid-19 crisis – solutions which are urgently developed, deployed, and implemented across the globe. Important questions in Ireland are how effective some of these tech measures are in relation to the government’s larger Covid-19 policy priorities and how clearly are these measures being integrated into larger government health care responses. It is also important to tackle issues like informed consent, legality and human rights, particularly as Ireland engages big tech partners who are not wholly transparent with their privacy and data processing behaviours.

What lasting impact do you see on healthcare delivery?

In the context of privacy, we are seeing the normalisation of surveillance accelerate through tech interventions. We are also seeing the involvement of big tech in health governance protocols in a way that raises new questions for democracy, legality and human rights. Strong policy measures must be adopted to ensure that healthcare delivery retains and further develops equitable and transparent governance mechanisms that are protective of privacy and which retain clear governance through established mechanisms despite the presence of powerful industrial actors. Healthcare should be equitable and inclusive – online and off – and irrespective of the tech innovations that become available.

How do you see tech innovation transforming healthcare? What do you think will be the major breakthroughs over the next 5–10 years?

Rather than any single tech innovation, a major breakthrough that the UCD digital policy programme is aiming for is ensuring that healthcare policies which exist in our offline world are translated and carried through in our digital world. This means development of a new class of policy-makers who are equipped with the technical, legal, regulatory, social, cultural and rights understanding sufficient to ensure effective digital healthcare delivery policy. Stakeholder engagement must be equitable when considering digital policy questions and include marginalised communities at the outset, particularly those who are locked on the other side of the digital divide.

What do you think are the key challenges are in the digital transformation of the health service?

In the context of good health policy and regulation, I would be worried that changing tech capabilities in healthcare delivery have strained the traditional democratic checks and balances required to ensure emergent tech meets requirements of legality and human rights. Tech changes often outpace the level of competence of parliamentarians, the judiciary, and those in positions of power to ensure that important rights like privacy and personal data protection are appropriately respected. A key challenge will be to ensure that digital transformation of health care is equipped with professionals who are able to craft health policy which meets systems of accountability for health tech integration.

What will be the leading trends in healthcare in the coming years and how will patients and providers need to adapt?

Adaption by patients and policy makers is perhaps an inappropriate request when we consider that structural inequalities can be built into public healthcare delivery at policy and practice levels. Patients in marginalised communities who have traditionally been excluded from health policy and design, must be included and prioritised when designing digitised health policy. Important factors to consider must include: How can discrimination, bias, and predictive profiling impact health delivery systems on a digital level? How is privacy and personal data protected by the dataveillance of health information; and how can technocratic intervention be human rights-proofed at the outset so that patients and providers are not required to adapt but are rather supported? These are all digital policy questions in the health sphere which require a new class of policy maker going forward.

Elizabeth Farries is speaking at The Business Post’s inaugural Smart Health virtual Summit today, Oct 22nd. Visit for full details.

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