NDUKWE CAJETAN OKECHUKWU
The internet has revolutionalised the healthcare industry. Many people in developed countries of the world seek medical information, advice or even buy drugs via the internet.So many websites rise every now and then claiming to provide various medical assistance to patients. But the application of information technology to medicine poses some ethical problems.With this paper,I hope to view critically the possibility of a morally justifiable cyber medicine.
WHAT IS CYBER MEDICINE
Cyber medicine may be defined as all medications via the internet,whether in the form of seeking medical advise via an internet doctor, the ordering or buying of drugs via an internet pharmacy, or the reading up of medical information via an internet website.Hence, the consultation sites, the e-pharmacy sites and the information giving sites are the three different kinds of cyber medicine websites that elicit different ethical problems.
The Consultation Sites :These are sites that offer medical advise by the use of a doctor or a pharmacist. Here the following ethical questions arise, how is the patient sure that the person giving the medical advise is a trained physician?, how can the doctors credentials be verified?, where can the patient locate the cyber doctor in the case of a wrong medical advise?, and how is the doctor to guarantee for the privacy of the personal information that are collected via the net? These ethical questions revolve around the principles of trust and caring, responsibility,privacy,autonomy, etc.
The E-Pharmacy Sites or Drug shops :These are sites that engage in the sale of Drugs.Here, who takes responsibility in the case of a bad effect of a drug given? Are the pharmacy operators competent? What is the distinguishing mark between real pharmacy sites and those that are for the purpose of making money?Is it possible to check the sell of unapproved drugs via the e-pharmacy? Do the operators of these pharmacies tell their patronizers the side effects of the drugs they purchase?Also the exclusion of the doctor as an intermediary calls to question the doctor-patient relationship.etc These are some of the ethical questions that surround the e-pharmacy sites.
The Information Giving Sites :These are websites that offer medical information about diseases,sicknesses or drugs that patients can log in and read up.It is confirmed today that so many people make use of this type of sites in knowing more about their illness.But the ethical questions associated with this site include,what is the validity of the information given? Are those information reliable and authentic?Are we sure that the sites are not sponsored by some advertizers for the purpose of e-commerce ?
THE STRUCTURE OF THE PAPER
I will start by defining cyber medicine and distinguishing the three major cyber medicine websites. Then i will delve into the arguments for and against Cyber Medicine.Here, I am going to present the views of scholars who are for Cyber Medicine as against the views of those that oppose Cyber Medicine. I am going to compare and contrast the two views and take a stand.Generally,the arguments will be revolving around competition, cost effectivity, confidentiality, validity, as an alternative, access to information, quality health care,etc.
Later, I will analyze critically Cyber Medicine vis-a-vis some ethical principles. The ethical principles that I will consider include, the principle of autonomy,the principle of responsibility, privacy, trust and caring and the doctor-patient relationship,which is not an ethical principle but an important relationship in healthcare .
I will then lay out some conditions that are necessary for a morally acceptable cyber Medicine. Some of the conditions as noted by Health On The Net Foundation include, authority, complementarity, confidentiality, attribution, justifiability, transparency of authorship, transparency of sponsorship, honesty in advertising and editorial policy,etc.I will do a critically evaluation of them. Finally,I will do a critical evaluation of the entire work and give some concluding remarks in which I will posit proper orientation as the way forward for cyber medicine.