“The press, the machine, the railway, the telegraph are premises whose thousand-year conclusion no one has yet dared to draw.”
While the technologies in this quote from the “madman” German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche are outdated, the sentiment holds true: What are the long-term or unknown consequences of technologies that, at first, offer promise, hope, and a better life?
This is a difficult question to answer as technology and innovation rapidly outpace legal and regulatory structures. We explore this topic — technology vs. morality — in our new episode of The Break Room, Privia’s podcast. In “The Murky Ethics of Wearables,” special guest Lisa Eckenwiler, Ph.D., associate professor of philosophy and health administration and policy at George Mason University, discusses moral frameworks, the meaning of “informed consent,” and what physicians can learn from philosophy to improve their practice.
Wearables like Fitbit, Jawbone, and even the smartphone in your pocket gather constant, real-time, anonymous data that medical professionals could translate into actionable insights, even medical breakthroughs or population health initiatives. In fact, these devices have already saved lives. Last year, a 32-year-old New York man was tipped off by his smartwatch that he should seek immediate medical attention. While en route to the hospital, he experienced seizures and had lost 80 percent of his blood. Had he not received an early warning, he wouldn’t have received the emergency surgery to fix an erupted ulcer.
However, for all of the potential these devices promise, many fear a Big Brother-level breach of their privacy and rights. This leaves these devices and their applications in a moral gray area, one filled with many questions and few answers: What data is off-limits? Can someone opt out of sharing their health statistics? At what point does a phone become a medical device? Does the collective good outweigh the privacy violation? How will this affect the patient-doctor relationship?
Explore these intriguing questions in Episode 13 of The Break Room: “The Murky Ethics of Wearables.” Scroll to the top of the page to listen!