Ethics and healthcare

As those who occasionally follow my activity you'll know that I've been treading the furrow to get Ethics as a standards dimension. This is particularly seen in the eHealth domain. I'm hoping my contribution to ETSI's white paper gets published soon but just in case I've extracted some of the text from it to highlight here.

From the paper's abstract: Medical technology has often been viewed as a niche market, paling into commercial insignificance when compared to ‘life-style’ devices, and complicated by issues surrounding medical device regulation and government procurement practices. This view has been reinforced in Europe by the uneven success of early eHealth systems which were dependent on the successful introduction of new digital communications and a new approach to medical services.

However in 2018 and into the future we ought to be able to put this behind us and open up the market for eHealth that can take advantage of the possibilities of speed, and volume of data transfer to be offered by ubiquitous availability of high speed digital connectivity, to open the market for communications backed by a new political awareness of the need to expand. Medical devices and communications services are no longer a small ‘niche.’ Their sensors will be at the heart of smart cities, agriculture and food and transport industries. To facilitate this growth, we need robust technical standards, included in the design process at an early stage, which are supported by an understanding of the demands of modern medicine.

The intent of this paper is thus to highlight the role of standards in eHealth technology today and their ability to serve the global population in the management of health.

The paper has been divided into 4 parts and the following is from the opening part that sets the scene as far as I see it.

This extract has the title "Defining the boundaries of eHealth"

Today there are some 7.6 billion people on the planet and only 15 million doctors! The role of eHealth will in part allow us to use technology to allow the small set of health professionals to deliver effective care to an increasing proportion of the increasing population. Unfortunately the right to access healthcare is not covered by the universal declaration of human rights published by the United Nations in 1948 but such a right may be construed as a reasonable extension of Articles 3 (Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person) and 5 (No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment) if we take the view that failure to provide access to healthcare leads to preventable loss of quality of life and loss of dignity or autonomy of the individual. This white paper posits the notion that by effective use of eHealth, and by global technical and procedural standards to enable effectiveness, that all people can find a path to access to healthcare.

I'm making the point here that access to healthcare has to be considered as a fundamental right and failure to do so, by restricting access to only those wealthy enough to pay, or by limiting the supply of drugs should be viewed as a major violation of human rights. This essentially is saying that it is unethical, immoral, plain wrong, to withhold healthcare from anyone.

If the global population continues to increase at the same rate as it has for the past 20 or 30 years there will only be a bigger gap between the number of health professionals and the wider population. It is clear that only technology used with appropriate controls can augment the availability of health professionals in developed and undeveloped nations alike. This linking of technology and professional activity offers a true significance to the term ‘eHealth.’ It offers the only way to meet the challenges of provision of health services as they continue to grow in complexity and cost.

I'll post the full paper soon.


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