Healthcare companies have been on the frontline of the Covid-19 pandemic, and their legal teams have an active role to play in helping their organizations make a positive contribution to society.
The crisis slowed many business activities but accelerated others. Digital transformation has risen up the business agenda, and sustainability and purpose have taken on renewed importance too. Lawyers have played their part here as well.
“Healthcare lawyers are essential within an increasingly digitized environment, because while these advances solve problems and improve healthcare, they also raise ethical concerns and legal liability risks, such as remote diagnostic tools or data transfer and sharing,” says Dr Alexandra Mullock, senior lecturer in medical law at the UK’s University of Manchester.
“Businesses that are taking advantage of the digital revolution need to make sure they have sound legal support to avoid running into expensive problems,” she adds, underscoring the wealth of career opportunity both in-house and within law firms, as well as in the public sector.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased the use of digital health technologies,” points out Sara Roache, director of health law at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington DC. “Lawyers have a key role to play in advising governments and healthcare companies to ensure the safe and effective rollout of digital technologies.”
The cutting edge legal issues in digital health include regulatory approvals for artificial intelligence medical products, she says. AI and machine learning are already being employed to help develop potential new drugs, or to diagnose and treat patients, for example.
The benefits of AI to clinicians highlight the dynamism of working in digital health, where technological innovation often outpaces regulation. The occupation is as exciting as it is rewarding, says Mullock.
“Healthcare law is an exciting field in any case because social change drives the agenda, but the pace of technological innovation is constantly outpacing healthcare regulation,” she says. “Regulatory responses are often reactive, and the potential for gaps is high. This makes this area of law extremely dynamic and exciting.”
How Health Law LL.M.s are evolving
LL.M. programs in healthcare are evolving in response to the digital health revolution.
On Manchester’s LL.M. in Healthcare Ethics and Law, “We cover a range of issues that enable our graduates to prepare for the digital health revolution, such as data privacy, genetics, genomics, reproductive technology, digital monitoring, research ethics and innovation,” says Mullock.
“We also cover global public health and cross-border health regulation and access, which, since Covid-19 struck, has become a crucial issue.”
More broadly, in just the past couple of years, the number of LL.M.s in Health Law and related fields has exploded. Last year, the UK’s Kent Law School launched an LL.M. in Law and Health, which promised to look at the ethical concerns posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, among other topics.
Likewise, Loyola University New Orleans and Suffolk University, both in the US, have launched law master’s degree programs health law.
In the past few years, Georgetown Law has added a range of courses exploring the intersections of digital technology and health, including Health Information Technology and the Law, and Law and Regulation of Global Health Technologies. For LL.M. students specializing in digital health, Roache recommends combining these courses with Information Privacy Law and Public Health Law and Ethics.
“We also offer some interdisciplinary courses for students interested in technology and data, including Computer Programming for Lawyers and Epidemiology for Lawyers,” she adds.
Post-LL.M. careers in health law
Law school representatives note that demand for lawyers with health law knowledge is poised to grow.
According to Georgetown’s Sara Roache, “Digital health is a fast-paced, complex, and evolving area of law. Innovative technologies have enormous potential to revolutionize healthcare and patient outcomes, but they also present risks to health and safety and challenges in terms of protecting patient data,” she says.
“Digital health is a great fit for lawyers who thrive on opportunities to learn and are entrepreneurial in growing and adopting their practices as technologies evolve,” Roache adds.
“Many health technology practices work on cross-border issues relating to provision of care, data transfer, and new markets for medical devices, making it a great fit for lawyers trained in multiple legal systems.”
Demand for these lawyers on the employment market is high, she says. “There’s growing demand for lawyers to advise healthcare, technology, biotech and pharmaceutical companies. Digital health intersects with many legal fields, including privacy law, competition law, and regulation of food, drugs, and medical devices,” she adds.
“There’s also great opportunities for lawyers to work within government agencies, developing regulation and monitoring compliance among regulated entities.”
Mullock agrees: “Leading law firms are responding well to the demands of digital health and biotech, and consequently this is a fast growing area of practice,” she says. “I think we will see more legal firms moving into this area over the next decade. This will mean that lawyers who have an LL.M. in Healthcare Law will gain an advantage in this job market.”