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The health of American communities is determined through collaboration between individuals, governmental policies, and health care professionals. Health care professionals have a multifaceted role in keeping Americans healthy; they educate patients about diseases and provide preventative medicine, they treat patients when they are ill, and they save lives when patients face trauma or sudden medical emergencies.
Who Defines Physician Duties? Who Says What Constitutes Medical Malpractice?
When doctors take on the role of caregivers in society, they accept certain responsibilities that come with the job and they agree to abide by a certain code of ethics. When they fail to live up to those responsibilities, the medical malpractice system, and specifically medical malpractice lawyers, are there to make sure patients are made whole. Medical boards and courts help determine if a healthcare professional is acting according to professional standards. Ethical guidelines help healthcare professionals define their role in society and envision future roles.
Ethical and professional guidelines are set by national organizations, like the American Medical Association (AMA), by specialty medical boards, and by state guidelines. These guidelines define important factors of care like what doctor-patient relationships should consist of, or how doctors should handle a conflict of interest. The guidelines help doctors contextualize and answer important questions they will face in practice, like when is it acceptable to use innovative techniques or what does acceptable end-of-life care look like.
American Medical Association Declaration of Professional Responsibility
In the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks and subsequent war, medical professionals banded together to promote care to all individuals, including those across the world and those who hold different ideological beliefs. The American Medical Association summarized the duties and obligations of physicians in the Declaration of Professional Responsibility:
We, the members of the world community of physicians, solemnly commit ourselves to:
- Respect human life and the dignity of every individual.
- Refrain from supporting or committing crimes against humanity and condemn all such acts.
- Treat the sick and injured with competence and compassion and without prejudice.
- Apply our knowledge and skills when needed, though doing so may put us at risk.
- Protect the privacy and confidentiality of those for whom we care and breach that confidence only when keeping it would seriously threaten their health and safety or that of others.
- Work freely with colleagues to discover, develop, and promote advances in medicine and public health that ameliorate suffering and contribute to human well-being.
- Educate the public and polity about present and future threats to the health of humanity.
- Advocate for social, economic, educational, and political changes that ameliorate suffering and contribute to human well-being.
- Teach and mentor those who follow us, for they are the future of our caring profession. We make these promises solemnly, freely, and upon our personal and professional honor.
This document reaffirmed medical professionals’ commitment to service and compassion to all individuals, and solidified the lofty ethical ideals to which medical processionals continue to be held.
Responsibilities to the Patient
While doctors have a major role in the health of millions of Americans, the most fundamental responsibility lies within the patients themselves. Doctors and healthcare professionals must recognize that patients carry the most weight in their own health, and need to be empowered to make good decisions for themselves.
Physicians have an obligation to advocate for patients. The American Medical Association adopted the following Fundamental Elements of the Patient-Physician Relationship in 1992:
- A physician shall be dedicated to providing competent medical care, with compassion and respect for human dignity and rights.
- A physician shall uphold the standards of professionalism, be honest in all professional interactions, and strive to report physicians deficient in character or competence, or engaging in fraud or deception, to appropriate entities.
- A physician shall respect the law and also recognize a responsibility to seek changes in those requirements which are contrary to the best interests of the patient.
- A physician shall respect the rights of patients, colleagues, and other health professionals, and shall safeguard patient confidences and privacy within the constraints of the law.
- A physician shall continue to study, apply, and advance scientific knowledge, maintain a commitment to medical education, make relevant information available to patients, colleagues, and the public, obtain consultation, and use the talents of other health professionals when indicated.
- A physician shall, in the provision of appropriate patient care, except in emergencies, be free to choose whom to serve, with whom to associate, and the environment in which to provide medical care.
- A physician shall recognize a responsibility to participate in activities contributing to the improvement of the community and the betterment of public health.
- A physician shall, while caring for a patient, regard responsibility to the patient as paramount.
- A physician shall support access to medical care for all people.
Responsibilities to the Public
The AMA Declaration of Public Responsibility enforces the notion that physicians are committed to bettering public health. Specifically, doctors are expected to work to improve the quality of health care and patients’ access to healthcare. Since doctors and healthcare professionals are expected to take on these larger societal roles, many people believe that prevention and education should be a daily part of physicians’ jobs.
Physicians are uniquely skilled in understanding public health concerns. Through public actions, they are able to educate and advise communities on policies and lifestyle choices that keep people healthy.
Responsibilities to the Profession
Physicians are professionals that have a duty to other doctors in addition to their duties to their patients and to the public. Healthcare professionals understand the amount of responsibility they carry when they enter the profession. That’s why medicine is a self-policing field, by maintaining its own high standards of care, medical workers remain highly regarded and trusted.
Physicians and medical professionals must adhere to professional regulations for each field of medicine. Professional duties of physicians will vary across specialties, but generally include basic necessities like altruism in practicing medicine, accountability of mistakes, and excellence in knowledge by keeping up with current medical practices.