The importance of ethical products by health-tech companies

health tech
Robot surgeon system in operation room, flat tiny person vector illustration concept. Mechanic hand and robot assistance process. Health care future tech AI innovation. Patient on the operation table.

It’s that time of year again when we become inundated with new year technology predictions and trends. Whether it’s robot doctors enhanced wearable technologies, or the rise of virtual reality, the future of healthcare has never looked so promising – on paper.

The problem is, most of these health-tech solutions and advancements will not magically appear in 2020. Healthcare is an extremely complex and multifaceted sector, and any one company or device claiming that it will revolutionise the future of healthcare in the short-term through technology is not only misleading but potentially acting unethically.

In Australia, we have so many health issues that need immediate attention. We have a rapidly ageing society, which means an increase in a range of typical age-related health problems (many of them chronic) such as arthritis, dementia and cancer, which will challenge the healthcare system significantly in the coming years.

At Halaxy, we’ve noticed that one of the biggest issues in healthcare is that patients are in desperate need of more doctors. Waiting lists are blowing out, and are spending months waiting to see a practitioner.

Starting a health-tech that focuses on coordinating appointments, tracking patient records/health data and delivering it in a simple software solution doesn’t sound as sexy as marketing a device that will revolutionise blood testing using a pinprick of blood. Yet it is the solution that is needed to make everything else work and to help those who actually need it.

What many tech start-ups tend to do is focus on is the demographic we call the “worried well”, people who are already healthy but want to become a little fitter, improve their self-esteem or who want to be a bit more flexible. These are not the people who are suffering from chronic conditions and who need the attention of entrepreneurs the most.

Sometimes giving the customer what they think they want – such as cutesy apps that will reward you with a movie voucher if you complete a set number of hours of walking – is nothing more than a marketing ploy that will result in little meaningful change in a person’s life.

While marketing is essential to selling a product, when it comes to healthcare products and services, there is an added layer of responsibility to not misrepresent the message and evidence behind their business – because they are playing with people’s lives.

When a company’s primary focus is to sell by creating a problem or highlight on a minor issue rather than to inform and tackle an existing, larger problem, that company should re-evaluate its ethical standpoint.

It makes business sense, too: a study by Label Insight found that 94 per cent of consumers are likely to be loyal to a brand that offers complete transparency. Furthermore, 73 per cent of consumers say they would be willing to pay more for a product from an ethical and transparent brand.

It’s great that people can track their own healthcare either through the device itself or through our personal health record, but without a practitioner to interpret that data, its use is negligible.

Yet often, this is not clearly stated by the companies hoping to sell a product. Instead of letting consumers know that the data generated by a smartwatch is just half the solution, these products are sold as all-encompassing healthcare solutions.

While marketing is an essential component of any business, the way a company markets itself, its values, products and services is a key indicator of its long-term success.

When it comes to health-tech (and any other health organisation) the bar is even higher: because a misleading statement, conscious or unconscious, can lead to a world of pain.

Alison Hardacre, Co-founder, Halaxy