The Ethics of Information-Gathering in Innovative Practice

Internal Medicine Journal 50 (12):1583-1587 (2020)
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Abstract

Innovative practice involves medical interventions that deviate from standard practice in significant ways. For many patients, innovative practice offers the best chance of successful treatment. Because little is known about most innovative treatments, clinicians who engage in innovative practice might consider including extra procedures, such as scans or blood draws, to gather information about the innovation. Such information-gathering interventions can yield valuable information for modifying the innovation to benefit future patients and for designing scientific studies of the innovation. However, existing guidelines do not say when or whether it is appropriate to add potentially risky information-gathering interventions for these purposes. As a result, clinicians may assume that information-gathering interventions are ethically inappropriate and should not be used in innovative practice. This assumption can lead to seriously negative consequences, such as increasing the likelihood that harmful or ineffective innovations will be adopted and creating new barriers to the development of genuinely beneficial treatments. We argue that health care institutions need to promote the responsible use of information-gathering interventions as an adjunct to innovative practice, and that these interventions are not clinical research and should not be subject to research oversight.

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Jake Earl
Walter Reed Army Institute of Research

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