medicine 2.0 Legal and Ethical Dilemmas of online medicine

International Conference

April 6-7, 2011

The conference will bring together a diverse group of local and international scholars and practitioners from various disciplines to explore the current and future issues facing the interconnections among medicine, healthcare and new technologies. The purpose of this conference is to examine the ramifications of increased access to medical information, emerging online medicine models and new marketing practices of pharmaceuticals and medical devices by drawing on both practical and academic perspectives.
The online environment creates new opportunities for healthcare providers and consumers of medical services. Particularly, the Web 2.0 creates a variety of platforms for accessing and sharing information among doctors and patients with regard to laboratory results, diagnosis, treatment, drugs, services, and more. Such web-based sources benefit providers and consumers, as they enhance the availability of medical information and generate new treatment opportunities, but they also raise complex medical, ethical, and legal difficulties. The availability of free medical information on the web furthers recent developments in the changing power relations between providers and consumers. Patients are becoming increasingly powerful and knowledgeable. Consequently, patients have become more vocal and are often capable of questioning the course of treatment recommended to them, at times even demanding an alternative approach. These developments have not all been positive, leaving some patients confused and in need of guidance, while others may be overly confident in making ill-informed choices. Doctors, on the other hand, may feel confused about the nature of the new doctor-patient relationship that is emerging and the related duties they owe patients. These changes have made it necessary for physicians to seek new ways to sustain their professional authority while expanding their existing tool set and knowledge base vis-a-vis patients. The above concerns for providers and patients have been accompanied by legal and ethical dilemmas for other new players in the field, such as websites that provide medical information: What are the ethical duties of such websites? Should such websites be regulated? What form of regulation would best suit this new reality. advance its underlying purposes?
Similar dilemmas characterize additional possibilities that the Web 2.0 environment has created. The introduction of digital records allows efficient global access to medical records, thereby improving medical treatment and medical research. However, digital records also introduce a whole host of privacy concerns relating to the possibilities of controlling and protecting such data, while utilizing it for better quality of care and better access to medicine for both individual patients and from a public health perspective. Additionally, as online counselling and telemedicine services become increasingly available, they create opportunities that were previously unavailable for many persons, but raise complex issues related to privacy and secrecy of patients; the accountability of therapists and physicians regarding "online", sometimes unidentified, patients; and the responsibility of service platforms towards consumers of medical services and products. The marketing of drugs through social networks raise another set of issues. Social media introduced a new way for drug companies to promote drugs through consumers' recommendations. This new method of marketing has introduced a whole new set of questions related to the accountability and potential legal liability of drug companies vis-à-vis information exchanged by consumers regarding their products in chats and online forums, allegedly (in some cases truthfully) managed by consumers. The regulation of such "virtual word of mouth" marketing is particularly complicated yet has become increasingly relevant with the proliferation of such marketing avenues.