The intersection of bioethics and health informatics offers a rich array of issues and challenges for philosophers, physicians, nurses, and computer scientists. One of the first challenges is, indeed, to identify where the interesting and important issues lie, and how best, at least initially, we ought to address them. This introductory chapter surveys the current ferment in bioethics; identifies a set of areas of ethical importance in health informatics (ranging from standards, networks, and bioinformatics to telemedicine, epidemiology, and behavioral informatics); argues for increased attention to curricular development in ethics and informatics; and provides a guide to the rest of the book. Perhaps most importantly, this chapter sets the following tone: that in the face of extraordinary technological changes in health care, it is essential to maintain a balance between “slavish boosterism and hyperbolic skepticism.” This means, in part, that at the seam of three professions we may find virtue both by staying up-to-date and by not overstepping our bounds. This stance is called “progressive caution.” The air of oxymoron is, as ever in the sciences, best dispelled by more science.
A conceptual intersection
The future of the health professions is computational.
This suggests nothing quite so ominous as artificial doctors and robonurses playing out “what have we wrought?” scenarios in future cyberhospitals. It does suggest that the standard of care for information acquisition, storage, processing, and retrieval is changing rapidly, and health professionals need to move swiftly or be left behind.
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