Health data poverty: an assailable barrier to equitable digital health care

Lancet Digital Health
Apr 2021 Volume 3 Number 4 e204-e273


Health data poverty: an assailable barrier to equitable digital health care
Hussein Ibrahim, Xiaoxuan Liu, Nevine Zariffa, Andrew D Morris, Alastair K Denniston
Data-driven digital health technologies have the power to transform health care. If these tools could be sustainably delivered at scale, they might have the potential to provide everyone, everywhere, with equitable access to expert-level care, narrowing the global health and wellbeing gap. Conversely, it is highly possible that these transformative technologies could exacerbate existing health-care inequalities instead. In this Viewpoint, we describe the problem of health data poverty: the inability for individuals, groups, or populations to benefit from a discovery or innovation due to a scarcity of data that are adequately representative. We assert that health data poverty is a threat to global health that could prevent the benefits of data-driven digital health technologies from being more widely realised and might even lead to them causing harm. We argue that the time to act is now to avoid creating a digital health divide that exacerbates existing health-care inequalities and to ensure that no one is left behind in the digital era.