Is It Time to Develop a Digital Hippocratic Oath?

Is It Time to Develop a Digital Hippocratic Oath? A physician's left hand hand is raised toward a digital display of the Oath of Hippocrates.

The Hippocratic oath has provided an ethical guide for physicians for centuries. Yet, for all its renowned value in protecting the health and privacy of patients, some believe the document needs an update to reflect the current digital world.

A recent essay in The Medical Futurist offers a proposal for renewing the Hippocratic oath’s principles to reflect the current digital world. It calls for acknowledging the transformative impact medical technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics have in providing care. Another recommendation calls for updating language about patient privacy to include data privacy.

Adjusting the Hippocratic oath could help younger physicians better relate to its overall principles, while older practitioners could take more inspiration to work from it, the proposal notes. It also calls for physicians to never lose sight of what’s most important when delivering treatment.

“I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth or an algorithm’s suggestion, but a sick human being,” one proposal states.

Another recent call for modernizing the Hippocratic oath appeared in Stat News. The report’s authors, one of whom works for Graphite Health — a nonprofit enterprise established by health systems including Kaiser Permanente and Intermountain Healthcare to transform care delivery — shared the company’s four updated principles for the Hippocratic oath.

  • Autonomy: We will allow patients to decide how their data are used.
  • Beneficence: We will make health care easier to access, understand and use.
  • Non-maleficence: We will protect and secure patient data.
  • Justice: We will ask, “What would I want for my own patient care and for my family?” for all decisions.

A key element to the Graphite Health oath is requiring health systems and external vendors with whom it works — particularly tech companies and app developers — to adopt it.

Graphite will require partners to agree to follow the code of conduct and other requirements before receiving a certificate that all participating health systems can view. This action should make the code enforceable by the Federal Trade Commission should Graphite Health’s partners mislead customers in failing to adhere to it, the report states.

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