VIEW: On the importance of trust in an effective digital economy

We often hear about the benefits of big data and artificial intelligence, and how they can find patterns within huge bodies of information that would overwhelm even the most brilliant human brain. However, just as every building needs to rest on strong foundations, the activity around gathering and using a huge pool of data rests on a vast and complex network of relationships of trust: if the trust isn’t there, the activity breaks down.

This was brought home to us most strongly in a piece of work we published this summer on the use of electronic medical records in underwriting. An effective system of medical underwriting would have many benefits: it would allow insurers to underwrite policies more effectively, it would help insurers to pay claims by making the disclosure of pre-existing conditions more effective at the underwriting stage, and it would make the redaction of information more effective, ensuring that insurers are not sent information that they are not meant to see.

The technology needed to achieve an effective system of sharing relevant medical record already exists. However, there is also, quite rightly, a network of groups and individuals that generate and oversee the use of information. The most important is these are, of course, the end users of the services of the NHS, but there are also regulators, data guardians, medical professionals, financial advisers and insurers.

The report we have published, set out a range of actions that would allow medical records to be shared more effectively. What is striking about the report is how few actions related to technology, and how many were related to building relationships and a shared sense of purpose between these groups.

It underlines the fact that a true digital economy is about far more than hardware and programming. It is about a social contract between all those who benefit from it – acknowledging the benefits that can be realised by sharing and processing data in new ways and establishing ongoing relationships that build and preserve trust.

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