How Bioethics Principles Can Aid Design of Electronic Health Records to Accommodate Patient Granular Control

Journal of General Internal Medicine 30 (1):3-6 (2014)
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Abstract

Ethics should guide the design of electronic health records (EHR), and recognized principles of bioethics can play an important role. This approach was adopted recently by a team of informaticists designing and testing a system where patients exert granular control over who views their personal health information. While this method of building ethics in from the start of the design process has significant benefits, questions remain about how useful the application of bioethics principles can be in this process, especially when principles conflict. For instance, while the ethical principle of respect for autonomy supports a robust system of granular control, the principles of beneficence and non-maleficence counsel restraint due to the danger of patients being harmed by restrictions on provider access to data. Conflict between principles has long been recognized by ethicists and has even motivated attacks on approaches that state and apply principles. In this paper we show how using ethical principles can help in the design of EHRs by first, explaining how ethical principles can and should be used generally, and then by, discuss how attention to details in specific cases can show that the tension between principles is not as bad as it initially appeared. We conclude by suggesting further ways in which the application of these (and other) principles can add value to the ongoing discussion of patient involvement in their health care. This is a new approach to linking principles to informatics design that we expect will stimulate further interest.

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Peter H. Schwartz
Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis