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Technology in healthcare just makes sense. After all, tech innovations have the power to do everything from connecting patients to providers virtually to diagnosing cancers with greater precision. However, ethical questions arise at the junction of for-profit businesses integrating with healthcare through technology and the risk that might pose to patients.
By evaluating the ethics of businesses across the healthcare industry as they profit off data-collecting technologies, we can get a better sense of how to protect patients from greed or data vulnerability. Here, we explore some of the ethical dilemmas surrounding tech in healthcare and how these dilemmas can best be avoided.
Assessing Benefits to Patients
First, the evaluation of ethics at the intersection of business and healthcare technology should be understood in terms of what it offers patients. If these benefits far outweigh ethical problems, then the industry is in good shape. And there’s a lot of evidence to support the idea that tech is highly beneficial to patients.
Take healthcare mobile apps as a perfect instance of the potential inherent in business technology as it expands into healthcare. Companies have been putting out new platforms for telemedicine and at an increasing rate, especially since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the first few months of the crisis, the use of telemedicine shot up by as much as 4000% from its pre-pandemic growth rate. This meant thousands of cases in which patients avoided COVID exposure with the help of a mobile device. This is just the beginning of what private-sector technology in healthcare is capable of in improving patient options.
By applying more business technology innovations into healthcare processes, patients are experiencing positives such as:
- Wearable devices that give patients and physicians more accurate insight into patient conditions.
- Improved care coordination through healthcare information systems technology.
- More accessible care with the revolution in telemedicine services.
More and more advancements are happening all the time, bringing health benefits to consumers through the ability of businesses to mass produce, market, and improve upon solutions. Artificial Intelligence (AI) even stands to reshape humankind through its applications to human health via brain-machine interfaces like those being developed by Neuralink and UC Berkeley.
These devices could have outstanding benefits for humankind, potentially enabling breakthroughs in mental health and addiction treatment. If treatments like these can exist, then it is ethically imperative that we investigate the safety and efficacy of these technologies.
Gauging Risks and Drawbacks
Gauging the potential harm of private-sector, for-profit technologies in healthcare is necessary before these tools can be applied effectively. Every technology comes with its drawbacks. Whether it’s energy expenditure or cybersecurity threat, risks could lead to ethical implications that could be damaging to businesses and human lives.
At the same time, even government programs can be vulnerable. Medicare fraud can befall patients if practices aren’t careful. Data breaches, identity theft, ransomware, and human error all present risks when vulnerable patient data is introduced to an internet connection. This means liability for companies incorporating new technologies.
In one example, a medical institution accidentally allowed search engine crawlers access to its patient database while undergoing server maintenance. This resulted in a $2 million settlement that the institution had to pay.
Fraud and data breaches will always be risks with connected business software, cloud networks, and smart devices on the Internet of Things (IoT). If care institutions cannot reliably ensure the protection of identifying patient data while employing these tools, then ethically they should not do so.
Meanwhile, untested and unaccredited technologies cannot be integrated into healthcare, even if they offer health treatments at an economical price. Care providers have an ethical obligation to protect patients by using products only explicitly approved by their corresponding regulatory institution. In the United States, this is the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which was responsible for giving the final safety approval for new technologies like the COVID-19 vaccines.
These technologies can make a world of difference in streamlining care outcomes. But without thorough protections and rigorous safety checks, the risks could outweigh the positives.
A More Ethical Approach to Data and Tech in Healthcare
That said, there are plenty of ways healthcare institutions can ethically integrate business technologies. This starts with medical practice administrators, who monitor services and oversee compliance. From here, safe and ethical tech integration can take place.
These are just some of the standards you can employ in an ethical combination of healthcare and technology:
- Only use FDA-certified technologies.
- Use firewalls, VPNs, and multifactor authentication for internal systems.
- Maintain employee cybersecurity education and compliance.
- Encrypt all stored patient information.
From here, you can maintain a digital infrastructure that respects patient privacy as well as their well-being. An ethical approach to healthcare technology means focusing business decisions on what’s best for the patient, and modern tools make that easier through efficiency and transparency.
Good medicine is good business, and technology that represents both stands to make a difference in health outcomes. Evaluate the ethical implications of combined business and healthcare technology to ensure patients remain protected.