Health tech loves white men
|April 10th, 2018|
|tags:||electronic trackers, health tech|
Health costs are evidently one of medicine’s most urgent issues to tackle, and technology could play a pivotal role in bridging the gap in health inequalities. Yet, in the health tech agenda, equally distributed accessibility doesn’t seem to be a priority. Indeed, the opposite seems to be true.
The emerging field of precision medicine is a source for excitement in the industry: it is providing a valuable alternative to traditional medical treatments patients are accustomed to. Yet, as its services are becoming increasingly sophisticated, they are proving to be highly elitist too. The basis of precision medicine itself is often designed to benefit a very specific portion of society: namely wealthy white men. In America for instance, medical research has been largely biased. For example, guidelines for lung cancer screening are based on a study of 53,000 people of whom only 4 percent were African-American. Furthermore, a research published by the Institute of Medicine in 2002 revealed that Blacks, Hispanics, and some Asian populations, when compared with whites, appear to have lower levels of health insurance coverage. The difficulty in accessing medical care leads to a subsequent absence of medical history, which is required by precision medicine to extrapolate data and develop cure patterns.
It then comes as no surprise, as American bioethicist Mark Rothstein argues, that those who are most likely to take advantage of high-tech medicine are “uncommonly tech savvy, highly health literate, self-directed, information seeking, English fluent, health focused, and well insured”, as quoted in the Fairness in Precision Medicine report, recently published by the Data & Society Research Institute in New York.
Hypersonalised treatments have proven to be extremely successful in preventing and curing diseases in individuals, but can only be developed if a collection of data about the patient’s health is available to the doctor: an archive that could be built if the individual has the assets and tools to constantly monitor his or her own health. According to the report, to have access to precision medicine, an individual needs to be ‘health and tech literate’, which among other privileges includes being able to purchase wearables such as electronic trackers that monitor vital signs, a requirement that already draws a neat line between who will and who will not enter the health heaven provided by this emerging field.
At a moment where tailor-made health care is proving to be a winning discovery, we cannot forget that most of the world’s population is still battling to have access to basic health care. And while it is vital to keep pushing the boundaries of high-tech medicine, it is also fundamental to make sure technology contributes to making health care accessible, not increasingly exclusive.
This article was published first on Screen Shot Magazine.
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