Digitalization could be the answer to better health care for patients. But first, they need to trust it

Building trust in digital health care is essential in the industry's next era.
Halfpoint images—Getty

The pandemic forced many industries to digitalize at a pace much faster than insiders would have ever expected. Chief among them: health care.

“Health care went from a traditional, in-person type of engagement model to a point where it made sense to do more virtually because of the nature of the technology options that we have,” says Mike Towers, chief digital trust officer at Takeda Pharmaceutical. 

As the pandemic and its associated lockdowns made traveling to the doctor less feasible, telemedicine boomed. Patients and doctors were innovating new ways to fulfill appointments through video conferencing, chatbots, and online prescription services. But the surge in remote health care options presented new issues for trust in the industry.

Digitizing pharmaceuticals, as with any industry, means handling the transfer of sensitive data between customers and clients. But, as Towers puts it, “We’re not booking hotel rooms here. This is a whole different level of responsibility.” 

Takeda’s recognition of that responsibility spurred the company to advance Towers’ role from chief information security officer to chief digital trust officer in 2022—the first such role, Towers says, in the pharmaceutical space. Likely it won’t be the last.

According to Towers, some 90% of the data that’s currently “active” in the life sciences and pharmaceuticals industry was created in just the last two years. As the industry trends toward digitizing, the volume of data gathered from customers is “going to explode.”

“Basically, any and all data protection capabilities need to be rethought in this new world, recognizing how much data we’re gonna have,” Towers says.

One issue Takeda is now focused on is how to assure customers the company can be trusted with their data. Of course, the company uses surveys to gauge the general sentiment among its clients and deploys opt-in protocols so that customers have to choose to trust the company’s data handling. But, Towers says, “A lot of the trust components have a level of subjectivity that we need to do a better job with.”

Like other trust officers I’ve spoken to, Towers says figuring out how to measure customer trust is a big challenge for him in the years ahead. Yet the payoff of earning that consumer trust will be substantial not only for the industry but also for patients.

“One of the classic examples I think about is clinical trials. There are opportunities for, say, a condition like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s where getting a struggling patient to go to a clinic to do some sort of experiment is not the best experience,” Towers says.

“There are more digital or innovative means to do that, like virtual reality, that end up being a better experience where frankly, you could meet potentially more patients in doing it.”

Eamon Barrett


The program
Lincoln Electric, one of the world’s largest producers of arc welding equipment, hasn’t had a layoff in some 70 years. The $12 billion manufacturing powerhouse avoids layoffs by following a unique, decades-old system called “the program,” which requires sobering sacrifices by employees and the company, each making promises to the other that require mutual trust, Fortune’s Geoff Colvin writes

Failing math
ChatGPT-4 appears to have become worse at math over time, according to a study that compared the ability of a March and a June version of the A.I. chatbot to perform certain tasks. Researchers found that the March version of ChatGPT-4 was able to identify 17,077 as a prime number 97.6% of the time, while a June version only correctly identified the number 2.4% of the time. 

Too vulnerable
Authenticity is key to building trust—but being too “vulnerable” could be a detriment. That’s the message from Constance Dierickx, psychologist and author of Meta-Leadership: How to See What Others Don’t and Make Great Decisions. Dierickx tells Fortune her advice to leaders is to not “work out your problems on your people,” but instead “deal with them and then share your mistakes.” 

The two-hour day
The age of A.I. has dramatically shortened the amount of time targets of misinformation campaigns have to respond to crises. Companies and individuals struck by a public relations crisis used to have eight hours of time to respond digitally, Richard Torrenzano, CEO of the Torrenzano Group, says in a Fortune op-ed. Now that window is down to two.


“Unilateral trust is directly correlated with productivity, but unfortunately, trust has eroded recently in many organizations.” 

That’s Kevin Oakes, CEO of the human capital research firm Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4CP), talking to Fortune’s CHRO Daily newsletter. The firm found that organizations with higher levels of trust between workers and leadership have greater productivity but events like mass layoffs and “dispersed work’ have all eroded employee-employer trust.

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