The AMA was founded in part to establish the first national code of medical ethics. Today the Code is widely recognized as authoritative ethics guidance for physicians through its Principles of Medical Ethics interpreted in Opinions of AMA’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs that address the evolving challenges of contemporary practice.
Physicians’ fiduciary obligation to promote patients’ best interests and welfare can include consulting other physicians for advice in the care of the patient or referring patients to other professionals to provide care.
Efforts to provide a comfortable and considerate atmosphere for the patient and the physician are part of respecting patients’ dignity. These efforts may include providing appropriate gowns, private facilities for undressing, sensitive use of draping, and clearly explaining various components of the physical examination. They also include having chaperones available. Having chaperones present can also help prevent misunderstandings between patient and physician.
Industry-employed physicians or independent medical examiners establish limited patient-physician relationships. Their relationships with patients are confined to the isolated examination; they do not monitor patients’ health over time, treat them, or carry out many other duties fulfilled by physicians in the traditional fiduciary role.
At times health conditions may result in behavior that puts patients at risk of harming themselves. In such situations, it may be ethically justifiable for physicians to order the use of chemical or physical restraint to protect the patient.
Some gifts are offered to physicians as an expression of gratitude or a reflection of the patient’s cultural tradition. Accepting these gifts can enhance the patient-physician relationship; Some patients offer gifts or cash to secure or influence care or to secure preferential treatment. Such gifts can undermine physicians’ obligation to provide services fairly to all patients.
Devices that transmit patient information wirelessly to remote receiving stations can offer convenience for both patients and physicians, enhance the efficiency and quality of care, and promote increased access to care, but also raise concerns about safety and the confidentiality of patient information.
When physicians participate in developing and disseminating innovative practices, they act in accord with professional responsibilities to advance medical knowledge, improve quality of care, and promote the well-being of individual patients and the larger community.
Telehealth and telemedicine span a continuum of technologies; As in any mode of care, patients need to be able to trust that physicians will place patient welfare above other interests, provide competent care, provide the information patients need to make well-considered decisions about care, respect patient privacy and confidentiality, and take steps to ensure continuity of care.
Medical tourists may receive excellent care, but issues of safety and quality can arise: substandard surgical care, poor infection control, inadequate screening of blood products, and falsified or outdated medications can pose greater risks than patients would face at home; Medical tourism can leave home country physicians in problematic positions since patients may need follow-up when they return and records may be unavailable.