The web and good medical practice: a spotlight on the French medical association's white paper

Éthique | 30 Nov 2012

A few days ahead of the "Ethics in the use of digital technology in health" conference (in French), the esante.gouv.fr portal looks again at recent work on e-health by the French medical association.

Information and communication technology (ICT) in the medical field have changed medical practice substantially. Increasing numbers of doctors communicate with one another, and even with patients, via forums, blogs and social networks.

Furthermore, seven in ten French people consult the Internet to obtain health information. This trend of patients seeking information for themselves, can be beneficial, though it also carries risks: commercialism, self-diagnosis, and self-medication are examples.

Use of the "healthcare web" must therefore comply with the principles of medical ethics, in order to avoid excesses and preserve the unique nature of the doctor-patient relationship. We should remember that for 90% of French people, doctors are the most reliable source of health information.

To help doctors negotiate this jungle, the French national medical association (CNOM) has published a white paper entitled "Medical ethics on the web". This document is simple and easy to use, and is a source of information about current digital technology, and a guide to good practice for healthcare professionals.

In conclusion, the guide gives five key recommendations on medical ethics on the web:
  • Make the web a tool in doctor-patient relationships;
  • Help produce health information;
  • Use digital social media responsibly;
  • Define the scope of advice given remotely;
  • Recognize as "official" any advice given by telephone or email to a patient who is regularly seen.
The guide acknowledges that digital technology will be a great asset to future doctors, and it sets out goals that will help to develop this area of practice. CNOM wishes to :
  • Encourage doctors to make a greater investment in health on the web;
  • Promote ethical behaviour among organizations that aim to develop and improve access to health information;
  • Raise awareness in government about the need to change legislation.
This progressive viewpoint is taken up in a CNOM's statement by Dr Jacques Lucas, vice-president responsible for health ICT at CNOM, and in charge of co-ordinating the white paper:

« The use of web and ICT in medicine does not threaten current medical practice; rather, it complements it, by providing unrestricted access to health information. »

The "Medical ethics on the web" white paper can be downloaded from the CNOM website..

For further information, see the CNOM website.