Ethics are inherent in the practice of medicine. In the world of modern healthcare, the area of informatics plays a pivotal role in the maintenance and delivery of care. As such, over recent years informatics ethics has further come into the spotlight. Similar to other codes of ethics, informatics offers insight into the recommended ethical guidance of clinicians and other healthcare professionals. Additionally, the informatics code of ethics functions as a gold standard against which actions of professionals can be compared. Furthermore, the code of informatics ethics offers patients and the general population an established statement of standards which may mold professionals’ actions and behaviors.
Informatics ethics have significant overlap with other codes of ethics developed around social settings. Many of these fundamental principles include autonomy, equality, justice, beneficence, non-maleficence, and integrity. Other principles including information privacy, security, access, openness, least intrusive alternative, legitimate infringement, and accountability play essential roles in healthcare.
All of these ethical principles, provide insight into the duties and responsibilities of clinicians, administrators, and other healthcare personnel when dealing with patient-related content. It is worth emphasizing that these principles function to provide guidance, depending on the nature, context, and specific details of individual situations.
There are several concerns regarding informatics, their regulations, and ethics. One of the significant issues is the consideration of efficiency versus quality care. Specifically, when viewing decision-making across all layers of healthcare delivery, from initial in-person encounters to data storage and transfer, it is imperative to consider the reason behind each decision. An additional issue is patient access to care, and data which has several layers of regulation at the federal, state, and organizational level. Another concern revolves around end-of-life. With the population trending toward living longer, how will data and information be utilized, handled, protected or destroyed? Often individuals at end-of-life do not have the capacity to appreciate the complexity of how their data is treated within the broader healthcare environment are unable to make decisions on how that information should or should not be utilized.
Overall, informatics plays a significant role in modern healthcare. The budding field of informatics ethics highlights views that mandate both flexibility and development and recognition of standards for addressing these issues as the field continues to evolve. The collection, maintenance, usage, and destruction of data in electronic healthcare records will remain a focal point of interest in the ongoing societal debate and regulation.
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