It is essential for every delivery of medical services to abide by ethical principles to ultimately prioritize patient welfare. General ethical principles within the medical field hold health care providers accountable to:
1) Cause no intentional or unintentional harm to the patient
2) Treat all patients fairly
3) Guarantee patient autonomy and informed consent
4) Remain truthful when diagnosing and treating patients.
More specifically, relevant ethical principles that relate to telehealth and the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) include:
1) Principle I.B.: "Individauls shall use every resource, including referral and/or interprofessional collaboration when appropriate, to ensure that quality service is provided" (Code of Ethics, 2016).
2) Principle I.P.: "Individuals shall protect the confidentiality of any professional or personal information about persons served professionally...and may disclose confidential information only when doing so is necessary to protect the welcare of the person or the community, is legally authorized, or is otherwise required by law" (Code of Ethics, 2016).
3) Principle II.H.: "Individuals shall ensure that all technology and instrumentation used to provide services...are in proper working order and are properly calibrated" (Code of Ethics, 2016).
Many individuals unfamiliar to telehealth will have ethical concerns and misconceptions regarding the delivery of healthcare. These ethical concerns may be the following:
Ethical Concern #1: "Telehealth may cause healthcare facilities to shut down due to increased competition for healthcare services"
Telehealth services have the ability to abide by all ethical principles within the medical field and enhance not only the success of operating healthcare facilities, but also significantly enhance patient outcomes. The attached video regarding telemedine and ethics demonstrates that healthcare businesses may strengthen as a result of telehealth due to the increased collaboration of health professionals from tele-specialists and healthcare providers who are all dedicated to restoring patients’ health. Despite services being provided from a separate facility, having accessible tele-specialists and tele-healthcare providers to assist with patient documentation and promptly provide advice for complex patients will ultimately reduce the cost of hospitals funding salaries of 24/7 accessible in-person specialists and reduce fees from extensive duration of patient stay in hospitals.
Ethical Concern #2: "Quality of care provided through telehealth will not be as adequate as meeting in-person with a healthcare provider"
Current research frequently demonstrates an increased effectiveness with monitoring conditions such as “diabetes, mental illness, high-risk pregnancy, heart failure, and cardiac disease” which leads to decreased rehospitalizations while achieving similar rapport with tele-healthcare providers as in-person clinicians (Stroetmann et al., 2010). Ultimately, telehealth has the potential to not only provide higher quality healthcare, but also further benefit patients by increasing access and convenience from the comfort of home as well as reduce costs associated with repeated hospital admissions.
Ethical Concern #3: "Confidentiality and informed consent will be at an increased risk when delivering and recieving telehealth services over the world wide web"
To prevent malpractice related to patient privacy and autonomy, it is essential for healthcare providers to inform patients and present caregivers when exchanging health information with affiliating health centers and recording the patient is necessary to benefit from telehealth services as well as contain personal health information and stream videos on a HIPPA protected platform. Business models must prioritize designing telehealth services in a way that will address concerns from the affected community regarding the nature of this healthcare as well as ensure that the business is following ethical principles for all medical professions.