Ethics is defined as the study of moral choices or issues. In layman terms, ethics is the difference between right and wrong (Kinicki & Kreitner, 2009)
There are several ethical implications of patient clinician messaging. The first implication pertains to the confidentiality and privacy of personal health data. The utilization of secure and web-based messaging inadvertently eliminates the requirement of encryption which would be needed for the traditional email (National Ethics Committee, 2004, p 4).
The second implication is the threat of causing uneven access to medically appropriate care to the individuals who do not have ability to use the internet or even access to it. The third implication is the fear that patient clinician messaging will obliterate the interpersonal patient/physician relationship that is very crucial in the provision of quality healthcare.
In regards to the fourth ethical implication of patient clinician messaging, patients should be gifted with the option to make a choice of either communicating online or using the traditional communication methods even after they have been taken through the whole online communication process. This will enable them to decide whether they want to want to utilize this new feature or whether they will adopt the new communication models. The final ethical implication is that there should be an establishment of clear parameters in advance of online messing utilization so as to decide the subjects that are appropriate for discussion through the messaging services. (National Ethics Committee, 2004, p 6)
There are several measures and practices that healthcare organizations should put into practice so as to assist clinicians with the ethical challenges that are usually associated with patient clinician messaging.
First, healthcare organizations should ensure that online messaging and communication only happens when the security and confidentiality of personal health information date or information have been reasonably assured. Secondly, healthcare institutions should ensure that quality care is valid to everyone, whether they interact electronically or not (National Ethics Committee, 2004, p 10).
Healthcare organizations should also initiate steps against “depersonalization” so that online messaging does not affect the patient-clinician relationship. The organizations should also make sure that the whole concept of online messaging is fully voluntary, that is for the clinicians and the patients (National Ethics Committee, 2004, p 10).
Another step that can be taken by healthcare organizations is to make sure limits on clinician patient messaging are set so that they do not overstep ethical boundaries. Finally, healthcare organizations should recognize online communication by the clinician and the patient as purely professional activity and should therefore be conducted in ways that are appropriate institutionally (National Ethics Committee, 2004, p 10).
National Ethics Committee. (2004). Online Patient-Clinician Messaging: Fundamentals of Ethical Practice.Retrieved from www.ethics.va.gov.
Kinicki, A., & Kreitner, R. (2009). Organizational behavior: Key concepts, skills & best practices. (customized 4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Irwin