SERIES: eHealth in primary care. Part 2: Exploring the ethical implications of its application in primary care practice

Sarah N Boers, Karin R Jongsma, Federica Lucivero, Jiska Aardoom, Frederike L Büchner, Martine de Vries, Persijn Honkoop, Elisa J F Houwink, Marise J Kasteleyn, Eline Meijer, Hilary Pinnock, Martina Teichert, Paul van der Boog, Sanne van Luenen, Rianne M J J van der Kleij, Niels H Chavannes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background: eHealth promises to increase self-management and personalised medicine and improve cost-effectiveness in primary care. Paired with these promises are ethical implications, as eHealth will affect patients' and primary care professionals' (PCPs) experiences, values, norms, and relationships.Objectives: We argue what ethical implications related to the impact of eHealth on four vital aspects of primary care could (and should) be anticipated.Discussion: (1) EHealth influences dealing with predictive and diagnostic uncertainty. Machine-learning based clinical decision support systems offer (seemingly) objective, quantified, and personalised outcomes. However, they also introduce new loci of uncertainty and subjectivity. The decision-making process becomes opaque, and algorithms can be invalid, biased, or even discriminatory. This has implications for professional responsibilities and judgments, justice, autonomy, and trust. (2) EHealth affects the roles and responsibilities of patients because it can stimulate self-management and autonomy. However, autonomy can also be compromised, e.g. in cases of persuasive technologies and eHealth can increase existing health disparities. (3) The delegation of tasks to a network of technologies and stakeholders requires attention for responsibility gaps and new responsibilities. (4) The triangulate relationship: patient-eHealth-PCP requires a reconsideration of the role of human interaction and 'humanness' in primary care as well as of shaping Shared Decision Making.Conclusion: Our analysis is an essential first step towards setting up a dedicated ethics research agenda that should be examined in parallel to the development and implementation of eHealth. The ultimate goal is to inspire the development of practice-specific ethical recommendations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)26-32
Number of pages7
JournalEuropean Journal of General Practice
Issue number1
Early online date30 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


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