In the aftermath of the relentless pandemic, preventative and predictive health care has rightly become the norm. Healthcare systems have undergone a complete overhaul in recent years, shifting the focus from illness to wellness. In a highly connected world, with the ubiquity of affordable portable devices and the Internet, individuals are increasingly aware of the control they can exercise over their own physical and mental well-being.
The concept of the Internet of Bodies (IoB) may arouse more apprehension than a will to adopt. However, most people are unaware that they are already part of this ecosystem, a network of devices connecting an individual to technology capable of collecting personal information or altering physical functions. IoB devices can be invasive, i.e. implantable, injectable or ingestible, or non-invasive, such as wearable devices. They are not always used to provide medical or health benefits, but may simply be for convenience at work, allowing access to premises, facilities, etc.
IoB devices lead to effective clinical decision support systems, lifestyle medicine, and healthcare expense reduction. When caregivers can determine that there is a cause for concern from a simple push notification indicating issues with patients, and then overcome the situation by prescribing medication, they can avoid emergency room admissions. Large-scale collection of health data through IoB devices can help identify health trends across broader demographics and geographies and improve public health.
For body-integrated IoB devices with brain-computer interfaces, brain signals can be converted into physical motion to improve the quality of life for people with different abilities.
The convergence of healthcare and technology raises concerns about the legal and ethical implications of the use and possible misuse of humans and connected systems. With growing awareness of privacy rights, the volume of data that will be generated, processed and retained when providing these services raises questions about the effectiveness of data protection law. Privacy concerns also lead to ethical concerns about how the sanctity of the person, an individual’s rights over their own body can be misplaced in situations such as parents caring for children and insurers when handling complaints. It is impossible at this time to consider all of these cases, but none of the concerns can be summarily dismissed.
As with any new technology using artificial intelligence and machine learning, this ecosystem faces competing interests. However, it is essential that those using IoB devices have been fully informed of their shortcomings, as well as their benefits. A patient should be informed that a pacemaker, which has an external trigger, can lead to catastrophic consequences if tampered with.
Changing times have already led to changes in law enforcement procedures. The Ohio Police Department in the United States relied on a person’s heart rate recordings, recovered from his pacemaker, to charge him with arson and insurance fraud. It is unimaginative to contemplate that warrants could be obtained by law enforcement to investigate women who monitor their menstrual cycles through apps on smart devices, especially with the movement against the right to abortion in some states of the United States.
IoB devices have the potential to extend health care beyond hospitals and clinics and into daily life, but also to cause real-life bodily harm. This complex interface requires urgent regulatory attention, so that standards can be adopted for hardware, software, manufacturing and production, and for the provision of adequate information and guidance to end users on use cases, the risks and the benefits. The increasingly automated and synchronous and asynchronous remote delivery of consumer healthcare is revolutionizing the way all of us, as healthcare recipients and providers, work with, adopt and adapt these solutions. Uncontrolled growth in the sector is not the best outcome and will require considerable intervention at an early stage. The imagination is a good servant, but a bad master; the simplest approach to a complex problem is always the most likely to succeed.
Bagmisikha Puhan is an associate partner and Siddhant Gupta is an associate of TMT Law Practice.
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