Technological advancements have transformed not only the way medical procedures are done but how medical data is collected and utilized. Improvements in data utilization have allowed those in the healthcare industry the opportunity to share and access data easier than ever before.
Though increased accessibility to data has had a positive effect on the healthcare industry, it has also raised ethical concerns relating to the use and access of data. As the healthcare industry moves into the future and begins to utilize more data-driven technology, the public needs to be aware of the important ethical considerations surrounding the topic.
Patient Privacy and Confidentiality
When receiving medical care, patients put an immense amount of trust into doctors and nurses to provide them with quality care. However, it’s important that patient trust extends beyond just medical procedures and includes trusting that one’s personal and private information will remain confidential.
As medical data and health records have become easier than ever to share and access between medical professionals, concerns have arisen concerning patient confidentiality. Obviously, healthcare workers have both a moral and legal responsibility to keep private patient information confidential. However, some worry that not all healthcare workers take patient confidentiality seriously enough.
In addition to refraining from sharing private information with others, healthcare professionals and institutions are now responsible for ensuring that private and confidential medical records and histories are kept safe from cybercriminals and hackers.
This means that medical institutions now have a more significant moral and ethical responsibility to have effective cybersecurity and cybersecurity protocols in place.
Telehealth and Its Risks
Telehealth has been steadily gaining in popularity in the last decade which means that more and more medical institutions are implementing the practice into their operations. Though telehealth is a notable advancement in healthcare, it comes with its fair share of risks.
Though it is easier for patients to receive care through the use of technology — such as phones or computers — it’s also easier for hackers to access or spy on patients receiving medical care. As telehealth is relatively new for medical care, it is still evolving and being updated constantly. Though these updates can mean good news in terms of accessibility, they can also mean more vulnerability to hackers.
Cybercriminals and hackers now can prey upon the newly developing practice of telehealth and the technology and software that allow it to happen. A hacker could potentially gain access to a patient’s private medical information through these systems and use them to exploit either the patient or medical institution.
As their forms of telehealth become more advanced and present certain privacy risks, it’s incumbent upon medical institutions and professionals to invest resources into improving their cybersecurity.
Data Collection and Healthcare
The use of data has had a slew of benefits for the healthcare industry. It has allowed medical institutions to gain a more accurate picture of what patients want and need, along with allowing institutions to make their operations more efficient.
Though medical institutions may intend to provide their patients with better, more uniquely tailored care, there may be cases in which they are recording data about their patients that their patients are not aware of. As such, medical institutions need to be clear and transparent with their patients about what kind of data they’re recording and why.
Data collection also raises concerns about the ethical guidelines of harvesting information about people, especially when it concerns private medical information. The line of what is off limits for data collection can be subjective, and medical institutions may have a different view of where this line is than their patients.
Since this is the case, medical institutions that record data about their patients now have a responsibility to explain to their patients what type of data they are collecting and make sure that patients consent before they do so.
According to the National Library of Medicine, there are specific parameters for determining whether or not a particular instance of collecting user-generated data is ethical in the medical field. These criteria revolve around whether the data will help answer specific questions and the methodologies used.
Though this may be a consensus within the medical community, many medical patients are completely unaware of the fact that their personal medical information may be collected as data for a particular study.
As such, it may be time to broaden the ethical guidelines of data collection in the medical field to include greater transparency and more explicit disclosure to patients regarding the possibility of their information being collected for a study.
Raising Awareness Among Patients
As new technologies and a greater emphasis on the use of data become more normalized in the healthcare industry, it’s the responsibility of healthcare professionals and institutions to educate patients on the practice of data collection and how it can affect them.
In addition, it can be important for patients to educate themselves on their own about what data collection entails and what kind of information about them is being collected. The more concerned patients become about their data being collected, the more pressure medical institutions and lawmakers will feel to put a stronger emphasis on promoting privacy in healthcare.
Another area in which patients need to be more informed is the risks of receiving telehealth medical care. Though many patients enjoy the accessibility and ease of telehealth, many are largely unaware of the cybersecurity risks that come with it. It’s the responsibility of medical institutions and medical professionals to inform patients of the risks of receiving telehealth care in order for them to make informed decisions.
Reframing the Dialogue Around Using Data in Healthcare
Though utilizing data in healthcare has allowed people to enjoy a number of positive and impactful benefits — such as easily accessible medical records and more convenient medical care — it has come with a number of risks that the public at large is mostly unaware of.
The dialogue around using data in healthcare has revolved around its positive benefits but has failed to publicize the ethical concerns that come as a result. Reframing the dialogue to give people an accurate picture of data in healthcare — and the risks and ethical concerns surrounding the practice — is a way to ensure that people’s private information is kept safe and secure.