“Make a habit of two things: to help; or at least to do no harm.” – Hippocrates

Why do I bring up Hippocrates? Well, I believe the “father of medicine” would have an opinion on how Health IT could impact the patient, as it may influence the covenant of the Hippocratic Oath. Most discussion about adopting EHR technology is focused on the ROI for the physician or medical practice. While this is a justifiable priority, one may also consider how Health IT could affect the patient, their responsibilities, and the traditional patient/provider relationship. 

Ultimately, physicians are in business to serve patients (consumers). If major decisions are being made about the management of consumers’ medical information, why aren’t their needs considered? Studies show consumers want to be informed and involved in Health IT development.  One 2009 consumer-directed focus group study conducted by Westat for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported that participants positively believed:

  • Health IT would benefit health care quality; and
  • Computers may add efficiency to health care and reduce medical errors.

While the overall consumer opinion on Health IT was positive, participants did express some concern that:

  • Health IT might make providers more impersonal;
  • More time and attention would be devoted to the computer and less to the patient;
  • Consent wouldn’t be asked before medical data are stored electronically; and
  • Their medical information would not be protected.  

 Health care consumers may want a role in determining how Health IT is designed and used. When doing an EHR readiness assessment of your practice, perhaps your patient population should also receive one alike. These are sensitive questions that may be helpful to ask and answer before choosing and implementing a new EHR system.

  • Are your patients ready to adopt technology and its use in your medical practice?
  • Can they learn to accept and utilize this new information management/communication system?
  • Should you inform them of the change and ask permission to translate their medical information into electronic data?

 Can the physician balance the ethical obligations of beneficence and non-maleficence with the growing push for digitized medical information? Yes; however, the duty might be facilitated if the patients are enlisted to proactively identify potential conflicts. It is important to assess both the patients’ and medical office’s needs to ensure the Health IT system change can truly help the patient and provider, and most importantly, do no harm.