Research Essay: The Ethics of E-Health

Research Essay: The Ethics of E-Health

Christopher C. Hood (University of Oxford, UK) and Sarah Bougourd (Nuffield Council on Bioethics, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2794-9.ch021
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Abstract

Some online health information and services have the potential to mislead, confuse or create unnecessary anxiety and more should be done to help people find trustworthy health websites and use online health services safely and effectively, says a new report on the ethics of ‘personalised healthcare’ (Nuffield Council on Bioethics, 2010). In September 2008, the UK Nuffield Council on Bioethics established a Working Party to consider the ethical issues raised by developments in medical profiling and online medicine that promise more ‘personalised healthcare’. The resulting report, published in October 2010, makes a number of policy and practice recommendations for providers and users of e-health services. This article highlights the recommendations made in three of the report’s e-health case studies: online health information, online personal health records, and telemedicine.
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Online Personal Health Records

The development of personal online health record systems that individuals can access, edit and share with others represents a move towards more convenient and patient-centred access to, control of and responsibility for health records. This development offers great potential convenience and independence for users, and it has been argued that providing patients with access to their electronic health records may “improve professional and organizational approaches to health care” (Wiljer et al., 2008).

However there is a risk that information submitted within these records could be misused or accessed by third parties, such as pharmaceutical companies who wish to use the information for marketing purposes. Reliance on these facilities may leave users vulnerable if the company providing it went bankrupt or changed hands.

The principal potential for conflict then is between the value of individuals being able to pursue their own interests in their own way and the value of safeguarding private information.

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