Affiliated project 2

Governing digital health platforms as spaces of healthcare provision

Digital platforms have in the last decades taken on a number of roles, such as those of marketplaces, communication services, search engines, telework platforms, payment services, cultural hubs, and providers of essential services such as healthcare and education. Among the latter are digital health platforms (DHPs), a broad group encompassing eHealth services and emerging areas, such as the use of advanced computing sciences in “big data”, genomics and artificial intelligence (WHO 2019). Within the field of digital health, examples of services that platforms can provide include data acquisition, processing and decision-support, provision of health information, access to personal data, self-care & monitoring, doctor-patient communication, peer-to-peer communication, e-consultation, and administrative services.  The EU has made it a key policy goal to implement digital health strategies by focusing, on the one hand, on funding and promoting these platforms, and, on the other hand, on regulating them (EC 2018, Marelli et al 2020).

DHPs have the potential to, and in some cases already do, revolutionise the geography of healthcare spaces, as they, for instance, alter patient-to-doctor communication, provide unprecedented possibilities for personalised medicine and targeted therapies, and have the potential to inform patients and researchers directly, rather than through clinicians. To match all the possibilities that DHPs offer, the regulatory framework is fast-developing, including in particular the General Data Protection Regulation and the Medical Device Regulation, but also upcoming legislation, such as the Artificial Intelligence Act or the European Health Data Space. However, the question is whether this legal framework appropriately regulates the range of functions that DHPs have, and whether it is sufficient to address concerns about privacy, data protection, safety, accessibility, accountability, bias and healthcare inequalities, as both practitioners and academics consistently point out the limits of each of these regulations (Becker et al 2019, Marelli et al 2020).

Saskia’s dissertation aims to contribute to future regulatory approaches to DHPs by investigating the role of DHPs in healthcare settings. Her project examins how DHPs become part of or interact with healthcare spaces, whether we can speak of a ‘platformisation’ of clinics and hospitals, or whether DHPs function in parallel to healthcare spaces, creating new geographies of care. Based on two case studies, Saskia’s dissertation starts by mapping the contents of these platforms, exploring their relationship with healthcare spaces and the ways in which they alter the provision of healthcare. The dissertation then combines qualitative field research in clinical and in medical research settings with a socio-legal analysis of the regulation of DHPs in the EU, showing how clinicians, researchers and platform developers interact with DHPs and navigate the regulatory framework. Finally, the aim is to analyse the role and use of these DHPs, and the implications this has for governance approaches.