WEB ETHICS: Expert Outlines Pros and Cons of Internet Health Care
With health care shifting from the doctor's office to the Internet, Bruce Hilton, director of the National Center for Bioethics, gives the pros and cons of seeking health care services online:
- Information: Easy access to up-to-date information online is both a blessing and a burden for doctors. Now, physicians can keep up to speed with what's new in research without "plowing through stacks of journals." The downside is that patients also have access to the same information, allowing them to "compare the latest therapies with their own doctors' offerings," thus opening the door for more malpractice suits.
- TV Ads: The "growing cluster of TV ads," offering the latest therapy for various ailments has put pressure on doctors to "prescribe the magic potion their patients saw on TV." But the surge in online drugstores has reduced the need for prescriptions, a trend one major medical journal called "illegal and unsafe."
- Doctor/Patient Communication: Communication between doctors and patients via email are "much less frustrating and time-consuming," something many consumers who have "vegetated on the telephone, waiting to ask a simple question," look upon favorably. But Hilton warns, "If your online conversation is read by the wrong people, it could become difficult for you to get health insurance," as many insurance companies are hoping to weed out the patients at risk for high-cost illnesses to save money.
- Privacy: With confidentiality "a central right of patients," the unregulated Internet has become "a new danger to privacy." Unlike other media outlets, the Web has "no board of editors or code of ethics to see that what is said bears some relation to truth." Thus, Hilton concludes, "You have a right to expect that your doctor and your hospital will do what they can to protect your privacy. But, remember, in these days, a 'net' is not something you catch things in, but a means for turning them loose"