Revisting Health Information Technology Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues and Evaluation: Telehealth/Telemedicine and COVID-19
Forthcoming, International Journal of Medical Informatics, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijmedinf.2020.104239
37 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2020 Last revised: 14 Oct 2020
Date Written: June 1, 2020
Background: Information technologies have been vital during the COVID-19 pandemic. Telehealth and telemedicine services, especially, fulfilled their promise by allowing patients to receive advice and care at a distance, making it safer for all concerned. Over the preceding years, professional societies, governments, and scholars examined ethical, legal, and social issues (ELSI) related to telemedicine and telehealth. Primary concerns evident from reviewing this literature have been quality of care, access, consent, and privacy.
Objectives: To identify and summarize ethical, legal, and social issues related to information technology in healthcare, as exemplified by telehealth and telemedicine. To expand on prior analyses and address gaps illuminated by the COVID-19 experience. To propose future research directions.
Methods: Literature was identified through searches, forward and backward citation chaining, and the author’s knowledge of scholars and works in the area. EU and professional organizations’ guidelines, and nineteen scholarly papers were examined and categories created to identify ethical, legal, and social issues they addressed. A synthesis matrix was developed to categorize issues addressed by each source.
Results: A synthesis matrix was developed and issues categorized as: quality of care, consent and autonomy, access to care and technology, legal and regulatory, clinician responsibilities, patient responsibilities, changed relationships, commercialization, policy, information needs, and evaluation, with subcategories that fleshed out each category. The literature primarily addressed quality of care, access, consent, and privacy. Other identified considerations were little discussed. These and newer concerns include: usability, tailoring services to each patient, curriculum and training, implementation, commercialization, and licensing and liability. The need for interoperability, data availability, cybersecurity, and informatics infrastructure also is more apparent. These issues are applicable to other information technologies in healthcare.
Conclusions: Clinicians and organizations need updated guidelines for ethical use of telemedicine and telehealth care, and decision- and policy-makers need evidence to inform decisions. The variety of newly implemented telemedicine services is an on-going natural experiment presenting an unparalleled opportunity to develop an evidence-based way forward. The paper recommends evaluation using an applied ethics, context-sensitive approach that explores interactions among multiple factors and considerations. It suggests evaluation questions to investigate ethical, social, and legal issues through multi-method, sociotechnical, interpretive and ethnographic, and interactionist evaluation approaches. Such evaluation can help telehealth, and other information technologies, be integrated into healthcare ethically and effectively.
Keywords: telemedicine, telehealth, eHealth, ethics, evaluation, health information technology, policy, regulation
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