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The Ethics of Information in the Digital Age

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Technology has revolutionized how we create, share and comment on information. So does that mean that there are new ethical standards for information within the digital age? Read on to find out!

In light of a recent Congressional hearing, Facebook officials have published a more detailed explanation of how the social media giant shares consumer information with advertisers. Public confidence in the safety of private information is waning as similar stories unfold around the world. The healthcare field, for example, is not immune to the unscrupulousness of cyberattackers. 


In early 2017, ATI Physical Therapy experienced an employee email breach that jeopardized the privacy of internal and external stakeholders. During the breach, cyberattackers changed several employee direct deposit routing numbers and absconded with the private healthcare information of over 35,000 patients.


The hackers stole a relatively small amount of social security numbers, Medicaid details, medical record numbers and other sensitive data. The clinic did notify affected patients, offering victims a year of free credit monitoring and $1 million in identity theft insurance. The healthcare firm has also retrained employees regarding the identification of email phishing attempts. The firm is still investigating the incident as of March 2018 but has since reinforced email security measures to prevent future breaches. 


Improved Data Safety Through Ethics


The growth of the world’s big data stores is pushing the standards of information technology (IT) departments, institutional review boards, and ethics codes into obsolescence. However, firms such as ATI Physical Therapy can shore up their digital security by referring to the code of ethics created by the American Library Association (ALA) and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA). 


The code outlines important ethics concepts, such as confidentiality and privacy. IT professionals can use the ALA/ IFLA code to update ethics and information handling policies and as an aid in managing access and privacy issues that are arising with the emergence of big data technology. The new paradigm offered by the code is essential in a brave, new world, where the amount of information that enterprises collect is growing exponentially.


Safeguarding Patient Information to Reduce the Cost of Care


Regrettably, there’s no way to completely guarantee the safety of patient records. Proper management of healthcare information is a mission-critical responsibility in the United States, where care provider organizations pay billions of dollars in malpractice rewards and fines annually. In addition to these expenses, the organizations also incur costs related to payout negotiations, lost morale and the long-term effect that the suits have on practitioners. Until better standards and resources emerge regarding the protection of patient information, healthcare workers will have to exercise extreme caution when it comes to protecting medical data.


Physicians answer up to 17,000 malpractice claims annually in the United States, while nurse practitioners face over 16,000 claims yearly - representing 20-percent of the entire U.S. nurse practitioner pool. Among nurse practitioners, nearly 300 are subject to fines, while more than 13,000 face other disciplinary actions each year. Despite the prevalence of malpractice claims, some health care advocates believe that the problem lies in the current judicial system. 


The advocates cite an excessively slow and expensive legal process that awards patients who do not need the rewards while failing harmed patients that would benefit from monetary compensation. The 1990 Harvard Medical Practice Study supports this claim, reporting payment for only 1 in 15 injured patients and awards for 5 out of every 6 patients where negligence did not exist. Moreover, malpractice claims are an expense that eventually passes on to patients, many of whom are looking for ways to save on health care expenses.


Applying Ethics to Patient Data


In this turbulent legal environment, corporate governance and ethical standards are critically important for care provider organizations. Staff members must have a clear understanding of proper ethical and moral behavior and the innate or learned, fortitude to make the right decisions. This kind of decisiveness may involve overlooking opportunities for short-term profit, avoiding programmed work behaviors and making choices that require more effort among available alternatives. This kind of ethical decision-making improves the standing that a facility has in the community and makes a health care institution appear more appealing to potential employees and patrons.


Privacy and security concerns are the foundation of many patients’ fears regarding the safety of their sensitive medical information. A large segment of healthcare leaders agree that collaborative efforts between public, private and government enterprises in finding ways to secure patient data are vitally important. By working diligently to secure the innovative technologies used in the healthcare setting - such as big data systems, artificial intelligence, and wearable monitors – consumers will benefit from medical advances faster and with increased confidence.


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