Emerging technologies, from artificial intelligence (AI) to virtual reality (VR), are rapidly redrafting the healthcare industry landscape and are thus poised to become a hive of legal activity in the years ahead.

In a recent report published by PwC based on a survey over 11000 people across 12 EMEA countries, a majority of respondents (over 55%) declare to be in favour to receive healthcare from AI technology and robotics in order to answer health questions, perform tests, make a diagnosis or recommend treatment (with respondents from emerging countries showing more preference towards AI than those from well-established countries). Access to quality and affordable healthcare (36%) as well as speed and accuracy in the diagnosis and treatment (33%) constitute primary factors favouring the use of AI in healthcare, while mistrust in AI and robots as healthcare decision-makers (47%) and the lack of “human touch” (41%) constitute primary factors against it (with respondents showing far more willingness to use AI in minor than in major surgical procedures). The report also provides next steps for public and private stakeholders to advance towards this new healthcare reality (setting appropriate regulatory frameworks, understanding how AI and robotics may interact with professionals and patients, etc.).

Similarly, VR – three-dimensional virtual environments that users can interact with and explore – is proving a key emerging technology to shift healthcare business forward. In particular, VR allows the use of healthcare techniques in a safe environment (e.g. providing medical students with the possibility to perform risk-free surgical simulations, using human simulation software where healthcare professionals interact with patients, conducting virtual robotic surgery). To assist stakeholders in understanding better VR challenges, A&O published in October 2016 a paper Virtual Reality: The expected future ubiquity of consumer virtual reality equipment and consequent legal and regulatory challenges”. The paper considers how a new generation of VR headsets promises to fundamentally change consumer experiences of virtual environments by becoming the next big computing platform. It also raises major legal and regulatory challenges that companies active in the VR equipment field may face by exploring seven areas: data privacy, patent disputes and trade secrets, patentability, product and regulatory liability, content licensing, reputational risks and medical devices. When it comes to medical devices, the paper analyses the possibilities that VR software or equipment (such as VR headsets used as general platform for such software) that are intended as a healthcare tool in order to collect/measure medical data or even to diagnose/treat diseases may constitute medical devices or accessories thereto.

Stakeholders should therefore carefully monitor and analyse how these legal and regulatory challenges may impact their businesses in order to ensure compliance with the relevant rules.