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Friday, 23 May 2014 08:59

Technology, Privacy Concerns, And Ethical Issues Featured

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Technology, Privacy Concerns, And Ethical Issues

The principle promise of modern medicine is to deliver improved quality of care and health outcomes at low costs through technological innovations (Jennings, Baily, Bottrell, & Lynn, 2007). The quality of the U.S. health lags behind the country’s scientific knowledge base. Evidence from research attests to the fact that there is a persistent underuse, overuse, or misuse of medical services. It is for this reason that applications designed for smartphones have become vital health care tools. Smart scanning of embedded health care information through the use of Quick Response or QR codes is one such example of the way in which technology has influenced modern health care.

These are codes that can be used to access online libraries, schedule clinic visits, access electronic health records, and other essential health care practices. Some health care researchers such as Sarhan (2009a) have warned of unforeseen legal and ethical issues that could arise from rapid adoption and use of health care technology. Although the use of technological information has been on the rise, there has been little discussion about related legal and ethical issues.This paper investigates safeguards and ethical standards in the use of health care technology, with an objective to appraise current health care technologies. The focus is on the use of QR codes in emergency response services.

Privacy Concerns and Ethical Issues in Health Care Technology

Informed consent, confidentiality, and non-maleficence are the basic principles in health care practices (Sarhan, 2009a). The justification for the adopted and use of technologies is to reduce costs and increase access to health care. This is in line with the principle of beneficence. Efficient service implies improved quality of care. Technology minimizes traditional barriers to services related to time and locations. Hence, it increases accessibility of health care services. The control of data is within the jurisdictions of health care organizations. The advantage with this is that coordination of multi-professional teams is efficient as data can be dispersed readily. Professional organizations such as the American Medical Association, American Nursing Association, American Psychological Association, American Counseling Association, and others have ethical codes of practice that guide respective members, in terms of the expectations for ethical standards and principles.

 Relevance of QR Codes

The society is continually becoming reliant on advanced technology (Sarhan, 2009b). Emergency care providers and first responders make life-or-death decisions with no or little information about the patient’s medical problems (Jennings, Baily, Bottrell, & Lynn, 2007). The ability to access medical records can assist in improving the quality of care the patient receives during an emergency situation.  The problem in various communities is that not all emergency managers are well equipped to ensure effective communication during a disaster or emergency. Inefficient communication renders a bad situation worse. Emergency management is a new discipline. It is only until recently that emergency workers begun sharing knowledge about experiences in emergency communication.

 In emergency situations, confusion can be inevitable (Ibid). Quick Response codes provide a tool that enhances emergency communication and vital information access. There is a wide use of smartphones among populations. These are communication devices that run on applications. The rapid growth in the ownership of smartphones makes QR codes a vital option for expanding access to emergency information and guiding populations to emergency notification websites. QQ codes take advantage of the widespread use of smartphones to enhance efficiency in health care service delivery.

Culture, knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, routines, and practices are behavioral factors that relate to the use of technology (Sarhan, 2009a). For this reason, the future of the application of technology in health care will be influenced by the behavior and attitudes of patients. For example, there is an increased use of the internet and mobile phones to access medical services. There is also a growing demand for quick access to medical services. It is also important to note that there is an increasing frustration with current services. There is also a requirement amongst the population for increased involvement of patients in decision making. These are issues that measure the patient perception of health care services.


Quick Response codes can be used to monitor the health of patients from a distance, manage health care needs, and provide advice or consultancy (Sarhan, 2009b). For example, health care personnel can treat patients at home without the need to travel to the clinic. Also, nurses can monitor the progress or deterioration of the health of patients and discuss treatment in liaison with other team members. The other disadvantage is that health education information is made available to persons regardless of their location.


The use of QR codes can have problems with patient privacy, confidentiality, data security, and data transmission. In relation to confidentiality, patients trust practitioners with personal information. It is expected that professionals safeguard the confidentiality of such data. There is a chance that health care professionals may use or disclose confidential information for malicious reasons. Therefore, they should bear the absolute responsibility for the protection of patients from material, spiritual, social, and emotional harm. Data transmission relies on firewalls and encryption protocols for security.

However, these security tools require constant updating. Therefore, they cannot prevent people from misappropriating medical records for economic gain and malicious reasons. The other disadvantage is that smartphones are a preserve of the internet-savvy people. It is expensive, and people who are old may find that there is absolutely no need to spend a lot of money in technology.

 The Marin County Scenario

The Marin County scenario where QR codes have been proposed for emergency situations provides an example of the challenge related to privacy issues. For the proposed Lifesquare pilot study to succeed in convincing county citizens to input their medical information into the website, Lifesquare needs to inform people about ways in which the QR code stickers will be handled. This is the same case as for ScanMedQR.com, which manufactures necklaces, bracelets, and cards for wallets with QR codes that provide access to health records.

Just like any other situation that involves the adoption of new technologies, acceptance of the QR code technology will face a challenge particularly with the elderly people. Unlike young persons, the elderly members of society do not readily see any justification for the adoption of new technologies in health care. The people of Marin County should realize that emergency situations are times when rapid decision making is required. These are situations where the information about the patient is required immediately, in order to provide appropriate and timely treatment to emergency victims.

The current status of private information management is in case different from the data management required for QR codes. For example, the driver’s license contains personal information. Also, private information is also contained in credit cards belonging to private organizations. Confidentiality of information with the use of QR codes is the same as with the credit card and driver’s license. It can be safeguarded the same way that it is done for these items. The stickers will help save lives during times of emergencies. Therefore, I do not view the need to forego the pilot, which is an opportunity to enhance the quality of health care and reduce costs due to privacy concerns. Just like they sign up for a credit card or drivers license, people should sign up on the Lifesquare website.

 Conclusion and Recommendations

It is important for every health care seeker to understand that innovations help health care institutions to provide timely care at low costs. In addition, they help patients gain access to hospital services and make vital appointments. However, the implementation, improvement, and integration of advanced technology in health care requires health care organizations and governments to create rigorous policies, strategies, and procedures to safeguard adherence to legal and ethics standards of practice. Involving the patient in decision making is very important. This is the reason why piloting is an important part of addressing ethical concerns with new technologies as applied to health care services. Stakeholders in the Marin project should consider culture, knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, routines, and other behavioral factors that relate to the adoption and use of technology.


In view of the requirement for privacy and confidentiality with the use of QR codes, individuals require protection from spiritual, social, material, and emotional harm. The basic recommendations for health care personnel are that

  1. Patients have a right to privacy, with respect to medical details and records.
  2. Health care personnel must safeguard the patient privacy, unless waived in a meaningful way.
  3. The disclosure of data must be related to a prevailing medical condition to fulfill the specific purpose of treatment. 


Jennings, B., Baily, M.A., Bottrell, M., & Lynn, J. (2007). Health Care: Quality Improvement: Ethical and Regulatory Issues. Garrison, NY: The Hastings Center

Sarhan, F. (2009a). “Telemedicine in health care: the legal and ethical aspects of using new technology. Nursing Times, 105(43): 18-20

Sarhan, F. (2009b). “Telemedicine in healthcare: exploring its uses, benefits, and disadvantages”. Nursing Times, 105(42): 10-13


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