Mapping the Ethical Issues of Digital Twins for Personalised Healthcare Service

Journal of Medical Internet Research 24 (1):e33081 (2022)
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Background: The concept of digital twins has great potential for transforming the existing health care system by making it more personalized. As a convergence of health care, artificial intelligence, and information and communication technologies, personalized health care services that are developed under the concept of digital twins raise a myriad of ethical issues. Although some of the ethical issues are known to researchers working on digital health and personalized medicine, currently, there is no comprehensive review that maps the major ethical risks of digital twins for personalized health care services. Objective: This study aims to fill the research gap by identifying the major ethical risks of digital twins for personalized health care services. We first propose a working definition for digital twins for personalized health care services to facilitate future discussions on the ethical issues related to these emerging digital health services. We then develop a process-oriented ethical map to identify the major ethical risks in each of the different data processing phases. Methods: We resorted to the literature on eHealth, personalized medicine, precision medicine, and information engineering to identify potential issues and developed a process-oriented ethical map to structure the inquiry in a more systematic way. The ethical map allows us to see how each of the major ethical concerns emerges during the process of transforming raw data into valuable information. Developers of a digital twin for personalized health care service may use this map to identify ethical risks during the development stage in a more systematic way and can proactively address them. Results: This paper provides a working definition of digital twins for personalized health care services by identifying 3 features that distinguish the new application from other eHealth services. On the basis of the working definition, this paper further layouts 10 major operational problems and the corresponding ethical risks. Conclusions: It is challenging to address all the major ethical risks that a digital twin for a personalized health care service might encounter proactively without a conceptual map at hand. The process-oriented ethical map we propose here can assist the developers of digital twins for personalized health care services in analyzing ethical risks in a more systematic manner.

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Pei-Hua Huang
University of Adelaide


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