The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has launched a public consultation on the ethical issues related to online healthcare, telemedicine and commercial medical profiling technologies.

The consultation will form the next stage of its inquiry into The Ethics of Personalised Healthcare in the Consumer Age, which was launched in October 2008.

The council’s expert working group has launched a paper outlining concerns about the increase of online drugs sales, private DNA test and scans.

It is concerned that such tests can throw up conflicting results or reveal little about people’s risk of developing illnesses such as cancer or diabetes. It also concerned that they place an additional burden on the NHS.

Professor Christopher Hood, from Oxford University, who will lead the inquiry, said: "The questionable quality of some medicines bought over the internet is a cause for concern, as is the possible link to increases in prescription drug abuse.

"But such concerns may be outweighed by the convenience offered to those with long term conditions. We want to hear what people think."

A spokesperson told E-Health Insider: “The independent body will use this consultation paper to address ethical issues, including whether the interpretation of information published online is correct, whether it is reliable and the paper will also look into privacy issues surrounding storing health records online.”

The paper includes questions such as “have you used online health recording systems such as Google Health?” and “have you ever purchased prescription drugs over the internet?”

The council says that it would like to hear the views of a wide range of people, including those using or contemplating using the services, before 21 July. It also wants to hear from those involved in providing them in the public and private context researchers, academics, regulators, policy makers and others.

The spokesperson continued: “In July, the responses will be analysed alongside other fact finding methods and a report will be published early next year making recommendations to the relevant policy makers.”

Link: Medical profiling and online medicine consultation paper

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