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Bioethics: What is the sacrifice for automation?
This summer, I am interning for a company renowned for revolutionary genetic engineering technology and expertise in bioprocessing technology and biologics manufacturing. Without the basis of science and technology management that I've learned at KGI, I could not identify the value added to the corporation in my summer internship project. I am determining the best device for electronic record keeping in various parts of the lab floor. To evaluate the device, I must understand the needs of the technicians on the cell culture and purification floors. In fact, many companies have transitioned from paper to electronic record keeping in the form of electronic lab notebooks (ELN). KGI sponsors first year students to attend the Association for Laboratory Automation (ALA) conference every January in Palm Springs, California, where students take short courses on implementing automation in the workplace. My short course centered on transitioning from paper laboratory notebooks to ELN.
As it is more efficient to convert toward ELN, it is not always advantageous in certain settings. A recent New York Times article explains the "Unforeseen Complication of Electronic Medical Records" in the health clinic. As electronic means are implemented, the eChart tends to require a great deal of attention at the expense of focus given to the patient. Will biotech companies and laboratories sacrifice some important intangible benefits of recording information by hand for streamlined efficiency and automation? Are the switching costs greater than the benefits? How can I quantify or assess the intangible pros and cons of paper records versus electronic ones? While this may not spark a bioethics debate, as technology is changing, it's important to explore how technology affects those who use it. The impact may be more broad-reaching than meets the eye.
By Michelle Pesce (MBS '11)