EHRs raise ethical questions for medical profession

Doctor with computer and gadgets
Electronic health records raise ethical questions for doctors, says a new position paper.

Electronic health records have benefits for patients and physicians, but they also raise ethical concerns.

EHRs should facilitate patient care and strong patient-physician relationships, the American College of Physicians (ACP) said in a new position paper (PDF) published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

“Electronic health records can aid in the delivery of high quality care to patients. However, health information technology also poses unintended ethical concerns that the medical profession must examine and address,” Nitin S. Damle, M.D., ACP president, said in an announcement.

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The paper, produced by the group’s ethics, professionalism and human rights committee, outlines three principles for EHR use.

  • EHR and computer use should facilitate patient care and support the patient-physician relationship.
  • EHR use should assist and enhance clinical reasoning and the development of cognitive and diagnostic skills.
  • Healthcare must maintain patient privacy and confidentiality in EHR use. Practices must address the risk of unauthorized disclosure and use of protected health information.

Doctors are divided about whether the physician community should embrace EHRs, with some urging widespread adoption to improve care and others lamenting the administrative burden that results. A big concern is the effect on the physician-patient relationship, since one recent study found doctors may spend up to three times as much time in front of a computer compared to face time with a patient.

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