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Health Information Technology as a Universal Donor to Bioethics Education

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 March 2017


Health information technology, sometimes called biomedical informatics, is the use of computers and networks in the health professions. This technology has become widespread, from electronic health records to decision support tools to patient access through personal health records. These computational and information-based tools have engendered their own ethics literature and now present an opportunity to shape the standard medical and nursing ethics curricula. It is suggested that each of four core components in the professional education of clinicians—privacy, end-of-life care, access to healthcare and valid consent, and clinician–patient communication—offers an opportunity to leverage health information technology for curricular improvement. Using informatics in ethics education freshens ethics pedagogy and increases its utility, and does so without additional demands on overburdened curricula.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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1. The late philosopher Bernard Gert, who made a number of very important contributions to bioethics, was known to have harbored disdain for the term “bioethicist.” Among other things, he said, he could not pronounce it.

2. American Society for Bioethics and Humanities. ASBH Task Force on Ethics and Humanities Education in Undergraduate Medical Programs. Glenview, IL, 2009; available at (last accessed 5 Oct 2016).

3. Liaison Committee on Medical Education. Functions and Structure of a Medical School: Standards for Accreditation of Medical Education Programs Leading to the MD Degree. Washington, D.C., and Chicago, IL, 2016; available at (last accessed 5 Oct 2016).

4. See note 3, Liaison Committee on Medical Education 2016.

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7. It has been argued that computerized decision-support systems, which render diagnoses, differential diagnoses, and treatment plans are at least as interesting and introduce problems potentially more challenging to solve: Goodman, KW. Ethics, Medicine, and Information Technology: Intelligent Machines and the Transformation of Health Care. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2016.Google Scholar

8. See note 7, Goodman 2016.

9. Osler, W. Examinations, examiners, and examinees. Quarterly of the Federation of State Medical Boards of the United States 1914;1(2):101–14.Google Scholar An editor’s note reads, in part, “An address delivered at the opening of the winter session of St. George’s Hospital Medical School on October 1st, by the Regius Professor of Medicine in the University of Oxford and reported in The Lancet, October 11, 1913.” Cited by Harden RM. Trends and the future of postgraduate medical education. Emergency Medicine Journal 2006; 23(10):798–802. Osler’s remarks conclude: “A paragraph in an address of the late Dr. Stokes contains the pith of my remarks: ‘Let us emancipate the student, and give him time and opportunity for the cultivation of his mind, so that in his pupilage he shall not be a puppet in the hands of others, but rather a self-relying and reflecting being.’” This may be seen as a celebration of improving critical-thinking skills of the sort required by contemporary bioethics, even though, it develops, that Osler produced “remarkably little on the subject of medical ethics.” Sokol, DK. William Osler and the jubjub of ethics; or how to teach medical ethics in the 21st century. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 2007;100(12):544–6.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed