62° AFI Symposium – Lorenzo Cottini’s interview

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interviste simposio afi

For the 4th session of the AFI Symposium, we had the pleasure of speaking with Dr Lorenzo Cottini, Country manager of Evidenze Clinical Research and a specialist in GDPR and privacy regulations.

Digital tools in healthcare

We talked about how the health chain, from clinical and pre-clinical research centres to the national health service, now has increasingly innovative digital tools at its disposal, which allow it to manage large volumes of data and analyse them with artificial intelligence developed specifically to bring innovation to patient health. These digital tools are capable of analysing data in a very short time, procedures that used to require months if not years of work by healthcare professionals can now be performed in a timeframe of hours or days at most, also greatly increasing the accuracy of the analyses by reducing operator errors.

There is, as always, a downside, Dr. Cottini reminds us, which is that great care must be taken in the ‘setting’ of the algorithm with which the artificial intelligences work, because it is true that they work with greater accuracy than the flesh-and-blood person, but correct inputs must be provided to avoid errors upstream of the system and thus obtain absolutely reliable analyses. Moreover, it is important never to lose sight of the ethical point of view of the matter, whereby human supervision is always necessary, be it by a doctor in the clinical setting or a researcher in the pre-clinical phase, to make up for the lack of critical and ethical thinking of digital tools.

Protection of privacy

It is therefore natural to talk about the protection of privacy, always remembering that the big data that are analysed still belong to patients, who are vulnerable from this point of view. We therefore asked Dr. Cottini, who interfaces with patient associations, what their vision and point of view is on the use of digital tools in healthcare, and the answer is surprisingly very positive. Indeed, patients see in these tools an opportunity to improve the efficiency of the healthcare system, free of any charge, by speeding up analysis processes for faster diagnoses and also for the advancement of scientific research.

It is clear that patients are aware that by giving their consent to the analysis of their personal data they are contributing to the development of innovative, fast and effective therapeutic treatments. However, care must always be taken to protect privacy because, on the other hand, there is a risk of inadvertently discriminating against sub-populations. This eventuality is averted when total transparency and seriousness in the use made of their personal data is always maintained with regard to patients.

The right balance

Finally, Cottini emphasises how privacy protection and GDPR regulations, which are not uniform across European states or even at the level of individual hospitals, are necessary but must not hinder the progress of scientific research with oppressive bureaucracy. Maintaining the right balance between privacy guarantees and the effective development of clinical and pre-clinical research is the key to a safe and productive system, both for patients and for research centres.