Thursday, 17 March 2011

Tutorial One: Information Technology and the Ethical Issues

In my first ever post, I wish to briefly explore the world of Information Technology, which has become our world, and the ethical issues it poses to society as it is becoming rapidly accessible to society.

Before we dive into the deep end, we first need to know what information technology (commonly referred to as "IT") is.

The Penguin English Dictionary (Allen, 2004) defines Information Technology as "the use of computers, telecommunications, e.t.c, in electronic processing, storing, retrieving, and sending information."

What does that mean in everyday English? IT is the use of various technologies to communicate, gather and process information.

 In what ways is this form of technology common in our society?In what ways isn't it? I believe modern society is grossly dependent on the use of IT; for many it has become their lifeline to the outside world. In most instances, it is at the point where an individual cannot go through one day without the use of at least one form of IT. Telephones, texting, emails, online chatting, facebook, downloading, uploading, blogging; are all examples of some of the most common, everyday things we do. With all of these things easily accessible to an individual, one now scarcely needs to leave their house if they so choose; even grocery shopping can be done online and delivered to your doorstep. Here's a link that shows just how common IT is becoming:

My experience with IT hasn't been anything over the top; but then again, who can define over the top. I feel more than comfortable using online shopping, email, instant messaging, music downloads, Internet television and videos, social networking sites and travel booking. Although I may feel comfortable using these things, it does not mean that I am overly confident. I like to think that I am manage-ably comfortable in regards to using these forms of IT. What does that mean? It means that I know what I need to know and that's all I need to know; anything more will overwhelm me, anything less, I will not be able to function properly; in other words, the basics. There is a technological race in an effort to advance our lives, and yet people are struggling because they cannot keep up with the pace. One must be what I call technologically fit in order to adapt. Perhaps my tendency to know the basics is a method or an instinct that I use for my own technological survival; I know just enough to get me through.

Joining the technological race is the profession of Occupational Therapy (OT) as they begin to integrate modern technologies into practice. Primary hard copies of client notes are a thing of the past with most practices digitizing clinical notes, and using hard copies as back up. Cameras are being used as a way of displaying the effectiveness of the use of prescribed equipment and are a means for providing baseline and evaluation information. One article published, reports the use of Nintendo Wii's being used for rehabilitation in wards (Verdonck & Ryan, 2008) (

Of course with a positive always comes a negative. With the introduction of new technology in practice a number of ethical issues have worked their way in as well and threaten to eat holes in OT practice. Yes I said it ethical issues - one of the major things that the health industry attempt to eradicate. What issues could there possibly be? Major issues such as client confidentiality and the security of files and private information. In the old days, hard copies had to be kept under lock and key, but with many client files being digitized and stored online, it opens up a whole new area of security threats. There is also the threat of reliability in terms of technology being there for you when you need it. Unfortunately technology is like a friend that you love, but you can't trust. Sometimes things go well but most times it lets you down. Computer viruses, power failure, out dated and unrecognized storage formats a but a few things that can go wrong.

But in spite of all these, OT still stands to benefit from the implementation of IT into practice. The digitising of client notes and records makes it easier for the OT to access and update the files where necessary. Research is also made easier with access to relevant online data bases and article and magical things called search engines. Perhaps in the future OT will be armed with devices such as iPhones, iPads and android capable cell phones and devices that use specially developed applications that compliment OT practice. These devices are capable of storing hundreds of apps and a great number of data on their internal hard drives, as well as access the Internet via their wireless network finders. Applications such as medical dictionaries, assessments, articles and direct links to data bases. Applications could even designed for direct use by clients as a means of rehabilitation, just as the Wii is currently being implemented (see

In order for such technological changes to be implemented, a great understanding of IT will be needed to help OT's in practice as well as our daily lives. For example it is nice to know how to use basic computer applications but it is equally important to know what to do when the computer freezes. If we did not know how to overcome technical difficulties, we stand to limit the productive potential that using the technology offers us.

But what happens when everyone around you is capturing sharing and transferring information, including yourself? Once again we look at the ethical issues that can arise from this. In today's society it is the norm to capture photos and videos of documenting what you did on the weekend and to post them on the Internet via a social networking site or photo sharing website. Often these photos are posted online without much consideration as to who else is in the photo and whether they want their face plastered on the Internet. A similar example is the publication of google maps, which takes landscape and street view pictures of different places on the planet and published them for public access on the Internet. However as people sift through the many images they are beginning to find that many of the pictures contain people going about their everyday lives unaware that their picture is being taken and used on a global scale. Many people have complained that their privacy has been invaded and are calling for the images to be removed (see Many argue that the person that takes the photo is the rightful owner of the image and has control as to what they do with it; on the other hand it has been argued that people have the right to privacy. The question is, who is right? Another ethical issue is that of the sharing of information and one's own thoughts via a social networking site or a blog. Although the information may come from one's own original thinking, it is very easy now for others to steal or copy your ideas and claim them as their own. How does one prove that they were the original creator?

It is in situations such as these where a term known as "intellectual property" begins to get thrown around as a means to settle such arguments. What is intellectual property? Domain Name Handbook (2003) defines intellectual property as "industrial property and copyrights, chiefly in literary,  musical, artistic, photographic and audio visual works. Intellectual property is afforded protection from imitation, infringement and dilution according to numerous international treaties, and federal statutes" (see ). In english this basically says that there are laws in place to protect your intellectual property, which could be a number of original individual ideas or creations, from being used, stolen, or copied.Within OT practice, much emphasis is used in referencing where the used material has come from in order to avoid the risk of not recognising the information's rightful owner and creator.

Another term that is thrown into the technological argument is social justice. (2011) defines social justice as "the distribution of advantages and disadvantages within a society" ( I understand that to mean that everyone deserves to have equal access to opportunities and receive their fair share of those things with society has to offer. Within OT this is extremely important, as an OT comes in to contact with many different clients, in a number of situations, but no matter how varied the client or the situation, ALL clients are entitled to receive fair treatment and equal access to equipment and assistance, just as the last client was.

Last but not least, comes a term known as informed consent. (explains that "informed consent is a legal procedure to ensure that a patient or client knows all of the risks and costs involved in a treatment. The elements of informed consents include informing the client of the nature of the treatment, possible alternative treatments, and the potential risks and benefits of the treatment" (see ). Which in other words means that a client should only give consent on the grounds that they have been fully informed about what is going to happen. This concept is extremely important in the health profession, and therefore it is no surprise that it is relevant to OT practice. Basically this is put in place as a way to protect the client from agreeing to something they did not fully understand, and it encourages the OT to fully inform the client before any treatment or modification goes ahead. With the presence of informed consent, many legal arguments can be held at bay as the treatment process in relation to the client has been conducted in a very professional manner.

In closing, I want to say that all of the matters discussed today highlight the characteristics of the society most of us are apart of. Whilst keeping up with the technological race helps us to stay on top of things, we must make sure that we don't allow the many changes to run us in to the ground with an overload of information. Remember you don't have to win the race, you just have to set a comfortable pace in order to remain in the race. So make sure you have your running shoes on, because I doubt the finish line is anywhere near.

REFERENCES (2011). Informed consent. Retrieved March 17, from /od/iindex/g/def_informedcon.htm
Allen, R. (consultant editor). (2004). The penguin english dicitonary. London: Penguin Books  (2011). Social Justice. Retrieved March 17, from
Domain Name Handbook. (2003). Intellectual property. Retrieved March 17, from
Verdonck, M. C., & Ryan, S. (2008). Mainstream technology as an occupational therapy tool: Technophobe or technogeek. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 71 (6).

1 comment:

  1. Hi Sarah. A well presented start to your blog and good arguments for and against technology. Look forward to reading more posts. Hilary:)