Background: This manuscript presents a framework to guide the identification and assessment of ethical opportunities and challenges associated with electronic patient records (EPR). The framework is intended to support designers, software engineers, health service managers, and end-users to realise a responsible, robust and reliable EPR-enabled healthcare system that delivers safe, quality assured, value conscious care.
Methods: Development of the EPR applied ethics framework was preceded by a scoping review which mapped the literature related to the ethics of EPR technology. The underlying assumption behind the framework presented in this manuscript is that ethical values can inform all stages of the EPR-lifecycle from design, through development, implementation, and practical application.
Results: The framework is divided into two parts: context and core functions. The first part 'context' entails clarifying: the purpose(s) within which the EPR exists or will exist; the interested parties and their relationships; and the regulatory, codes of professional conduct and organisational policy frame of reference. Understanding the context is required before addressing the second part of the framework which focuses on EPR 'core functions' of data collection, data access, and digitally-enabled healthcare.
Conclusions: The primary objective of the EPR Applied Ethics Framework is to help identify and create value and benefits rather than to merely prevent risks. It should therefore be used to steer an EPR project to success rather than be seen as a set of inhibitory rules. The framework is adaptable to a wide range of EPR categories and can cater for new and evolving EPR-enabled healthcare priorities. It is therefore an iterative tool that should be revisited as new EPR-related state-of-affairs, capabilities or activities emerge.
Keywords: Digitalisation; Electronic health records; Electronic medical records; Electronic patient records; Ethics; Framework; eHealth.