Doctor-turned-app developer presents “A Hippocratic Oath for tech”

As both a critical care specialist and the co-founder and chief medical officer of mobile health startup Figure 1, Joshua Landy is in a uniquely qualified position to propose a Hippocratic Oath for the tech industry.

“You might not know this, but Silicon Valley has a small image problem right now,” Landy said, to laughter, during a Feb. 13 presentation organized by Tech Toronto while headlines such as “Smartphones are damaging this generation’s mental health” and “A Former Facebook VP Says Social Media Is Destroying Society. And He’s Right.” flashed on screen.

His prescription: An oath, similar the one taken by all doctors, promising to “utterly reject harm and mischief” for the benefit of patients users.

For example, the current version of the Oath, written by former Tufts University academic dean Louis Lasagna, requires medical practitioners to promise that “I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.”

Landy’s suggestion for the tech industry: “I will apply, for the benefit of the sick user experience, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment clickbait and therapeutic nihilism untested assumptions.”

After all, marketers shouldn’t need a doctor to tell them that flooding someone’s smartphone with thousands of push notifications isn’t a great idea, he said.

Another excerpt from the Oath, easily updated, reads: “I will respect the privacy of my patients users, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know.”

“When we go to the doctor’s office, you can tell the doctor really secret stuff,” Landy said. “They’re going to write it down, but nobody’s going to see that stuff.”

Yet we expect the exact opposite from technology companies, he said – and with good reason.

“If you haven’t been pwned in the room because your password has been in some sort of data dump before, it’s going to happen, and you’re going to wonder why,” Landy said.

Leaky security being the status quo is no excuse for it to remain that way, he said. After all, as another section of the Hippocratic Oath, with some corrections, says:

“I will remember that I do not treat serve a fever chart, a cancerous growth monthly active user, but a sick human being, whose illness experience may affect the person’s family and economic stability.”

“As an intensive care physician, I spend a lot of time with patients and their families [during] life or death decisions,” he said, noting that an important component of helping patients is providing the information they need, but allowing them to make their own decisions.

Most importantly, Landy said, tech executives should not be trying to play God:

“Above all, I must not play at God mode.”

“As a physician… you will hear the phrase, ‘treat the patient, not the disease,’” he said. “What that means is your job as a doctor isn’t to focus in on every little abnormality and correct it, but to understand who that person is. What their ecosystem’s like. And to help point them [in a helpful] direction.”

Adding a user’s profile to your platform for any other reason than to help that user is “unnecessary, creepy, and gross,” Landy said.

“This is what we have to move past – the idea that we are the owners of the tech community, and we will do what we like with… these communities we have built for our users,” he said. “Let’s leave it up to them, and… hopefully be the tool that they want us to be.”

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Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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