Web portals like WebMD, Internet-based medical news and information service headquartered in Atlanta with offices in San Francisco and Portland, Ore., provides access to health, medical, and pharmaceutical information anytime to all the consumers. WebMB is also unique in the sense that it is also providing B2B services as increasing number of customers as well as businesses are logging on the Internet for their medical and business needs. “The number of consumers seeking health information and the number of hosts providing them with information has more than tripled since the 1990s. Google reports that there were more than 2.6 billion searches related to health information in 2004. This breaks down to 223 million health searches per month, 7.3 million per day, and 85 per second” (Leaffer, 2006).
WebMD is a comprehensive web portal providing comprehensive medical facilities to both consumers and businesses but following different issues with respect to legality and ethics may come up:
Quality & Trust: The information provided at the WebMD web site is of quality yet some kind authorization and accreditation is required. Though the accreditation is there with the web site yet trust builds up over a period of time. However, in case of problems cropping up with patients as a result of online consultation, potential for liability and lawsuits also increase. It will also be the responsibility of legislators to further elucidate existing laws & regulations in the context of telehealth. Regulations of practice and standards online have to be reviewed time and again to come up with the best practice standards with laws. Existing regulations have so far proven to be insufficient for controlling the privacy issues. At times the data is abused. Though there are no known cases or news against WebMD but this situation may cause trouble. Also, the aspect of quality control should also be used by the web site to monitor the already existing database. The website may require regular updates with regard to the changes and improvements and developments in the field of medicine. This way the trust will become stronger with the consumers and WebMD will emerge as a strong brand among online medical web portals.
Privacy: Also, when encountering a site for purchasing goods or for getting professional advices for example WebMD.com, people need to assess the trustworthiness of the service regarding privacy. Some people are reluctant to enter their credit card information or reveal their illness concerns, whereas others are unconcerned with the potential loss of privacy or even identity theft in these unvetted sites. The database of web site contains all sorts of private information related to the public. At times such information is of sensitive nature and people would like to withhold them from scrutiny by anyone. Such information once leaked could harm the normal life of an individual. WebMD shows certified privacy with eTrust but still patients’ rights and attitudes with respect to privacy and personally identifiable electronic data have to be reviewed repeatedly. Physicians at times may show reluctance regarding sharing their consultations also requiring electronic medical record (EMR) to consider their privacy issues as well. So it is not just the issues related to consumers but issues of physicians and others business using the same portals must also be considered for privacy.
Jurisdiction Issues: Videoconferencing provides a 21st-century alternative to face-to-face consultation connecting people sitting in different parts of the world. Even in case of WebMD people belonging to different regions of the world or outside the United States can also seek help and advice. This may create the issue of jurisdiction as laws that regulate United States practices may not be applicable to other parts of the world. Also, standards may differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and there could be major clash between the standard in the patient’s jurisdiction and the jurisdiction of the licensed health care worker. Jurisdiction issues may also affect the insurance and the coverage provided by the agency as insurance coverage is also restricted to certain regions and not outside those jurisdictions.
Identity Theft: Another issue or the problem is that of identity theft, which is considered to be the fastest growing crime in America as millions of victims have been reported over a period of last couple of years. Giving out information on website whether it is email or other security or personal details requires care & caution on part of both consumers as well as WebMD management.
Jargons: The information available for the consumers at times can be in a technical language. Jargons may create confusion among the consumers and may misguide them. Most information is available in easy to understand language but the provision of glossary of terms may help the consumers in understanding the true meaning of the content available at WebMD.
Parental Monitoring: The information available on WebMD is of sensitive nature. Many a times the issues are related to sexual health as well defined explicitly. Children may have access to such information without much trouble. Words of caution should be mentioned at the website to caution parents of certain content that may not be appropriate for children.
B2B Issues: WebMD is the unique combination of B2C and B2B. The web site offers B2B services like workflow; moving business documents among doctors, HMOs, and insurance firms. Graphical banner advertisements, pop-ups and text based ads are online ads that are placed on the website, linking back to a website is another way of using emarketing and offering B2B options the ads are designed to encourage users to click through to a site to learn more and ultimately, to buy. Affiliate programs, also known as referral programs or partnership programs work by paying a commission for each transaction a website produces for a third party. These sites may offer a commission payment based on a percentage of the revenue generated by purchases made by visitors coming from a specific site. All these affiliations should be thoroughly checked for standards as associations with dubious companies may hurt the repute of the WebMD.
Counterfeiting: Previously, we had counterfeit product selling in the open markets. Fake versions of world-renowned brands were available in the market at a fraction of the original price. Now Internet has become the center of activities of such fake and counterfeit products. Counterfeiting and trademark infringements on Internet have also covered the pharmaceuticals. Considering the gravity of the problem Anti-Counterfeiting Act was passed in United States in the year 1996. WebMD has to be careful when dealing with other businesses specially related to pharmaceuticals.
Technical Issues: There are digital certificates used for web servers that provide authentication, privacy and date integrity by means of encryption. A system is required where payments can be accepted, processed, secured and managed online without any delays. There are many payment management systems available that deal with these issues. “It’s time to unify the management of networks, applications (shopping carts) and systems, as well as the computers upon which Web servers, application servers and databases run. The stakes are significant: Whichever dot-coin can deploy the tools and the people who can take a multidisciplinary approach to management has the best chance of winning in the competitive ecommerce world” (Phillips, 2000).
Phillips, B. (March 2000). Ecommerce Management — a Matter of Breadth and Depth. Business Communications Review. 30(3): 14.
Leaffer, T. (2006). The Digital Health-Care Revolution: Empowering Health Consumers; Anywhere and Anytime Access to a World of Medical Information Is Helping Consumers to Take Better Charge of Their Health. The Futurist. 40(3): 53+.
Promoting Patient Safety: An Ethical Basis for Policy Deliberation. The Hastings Center Report. 33(5): 1+.
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