Thursday, March 13, 2008

The ethical challenges of ubiquitous healthcare

One of the big medical trends of this coming decade will be the use of miniaturised computing devices to monitor and respond to changes in patients' key physiological indicators. You can read about the ethical implications in an article by myself and Andrew A. Adams, just published in International Review of Information Ethics:

Ubiquitous healthcare is an emerging area of technology that uses a large number of environmental and patient sensors and actuators to monitor and improve patients’ physical and mental condition. Tiny sensors gather data on almost any physiological characteristic that can be used to diagnose health problems. This technology faces some challenging ethical questions, ranging from the small-scale individual issues of trust and efficacy to the societal issues of health and longevity gaps related to economic status. It presents particular problems in combining developing computer/information/media ethics with established medical ethics.

This article describes a practice-based ethics approach, considering in particular the areas of privacy, agency, equity and liability. It raises questions that ubiquitous healthcare will force practitioners to face as they develop ubiquitous healthcare systems. Medicine is a controlled profession whose practise is commonly restricted by government-appointed authorities, whereas computer software and hardware development is notoriously lacking in such regimes.

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