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Limit Risk with Ethics and a Code of Conduct

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Lancet Staff Report

The two may not always be paired, but loss and informed consent go hand in hand. A shared decision making process between the patient and the physician results in a clear informed consent and will strengthen the bond between patient and physician. The clinical risk management guide states, “Informed consent is based on the ethical principal of self-determination. Physicians can do much to reduce informed consent claims by engaging in shared decision making with their patients, building patient trust, creating realistic expectations, and documenting the informed consent process” (2005).

Medical ethics have long held that the information shared between patient and physician is to be considered absolutely confidential. This relationship is essential for the patient to be able to make a complete disclosure of information that will aid in the development of an effective plan.
There are, however, hotspots that, in spite of ethical and legal obligations, can increase the risk factor for health care providers. The American Medical Association (2010) points out that “the ethical guidelines are not binding by law, although courts have used ethical obligations as the basis for imposing legal obligations.” As mentioned previously, maintaining patient confidentiality is a legal duty as well as an ethical duty, and could cause exposure to risk if not adhered to.

Codes of conduct, if applied, can establish a base of defense if unwarranted claims are made. The premise behind a code ethics is to treat others with respect, trust, and dignity. By treating patients with trust and dignity, the health care professional will conduct business honestly, fairly, and with integrity. It is in the best interest of all health care providers to make certain that patients are made aware of their rights, as well as their responsibilities to themselves and their physicians.

While not the only area of concern for risk exposure, electronic health records (EHR) have given greater access to confidential records than ever before. Physicians in an “integrated delivery systems” or groups have access to confidential information from all patients in that group. Clinics and other ancillary facilities also share data bases. The key is for health care professionals to balance the efficiency of technology with maintaining strict confidentiality.

Not every physician will engage in medical research, but it is a growing field of practice and exposure to risk has grown also. The BayCare Health System (2006) suggests a number of procedures to follow when conducting research. These procedures follow accepted legal and ethical standards that can serve as a basis for protection against adverse claims. Several of these are: obtain approval from the Institutional Review Board, provide all participants with pertinent information, submit accurate information to the IRB, report any adverse reactions to the IRB, avoid scientific misconduct, and submit accurate costs of all research grants.

In summary, the best way to prevent exposure to liability is to “do the right thing” and abide by an ethical code of professional conduct.

References American Medical Association (2010). Patient Confidentiality. BayCare Health Systems (2006). Ethics and code of conduct,
p.8. guide, p.15.
Medical Protective (2005). Clinical risk management reference