Doctors “Bending” Ethical Norms to Best Serve Their Patients who can’t Bend their Joints

ethical-medical-dilemmasRheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, are a common cause of disability. they affect all sectors of the population, diminish quality of life and have a significant social impact.

Yet, despite the benefits of early treatment and effective therapies, access to rheumatologic services may be difficult, involving long wait times, even difficulties finding providers.

C. Ronald MacKenzie, MD, a rheumatologist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City conducted a survey among rheumatologists entitled “Bending’ Ethical Norms to Serve Patients’ Interests:Tensions in Medical Professionalism,” to examine the medical, moral and ethical dilemmas doctors face when trying to do what’s best for their patients in the current health care environment.

The study was published in the October issue of the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism. When people receive a diagnosis, the cost of effective treatment may render it unaffordable for many,” says Dr. MacKenzie. “While an optimal or fair system would mitigate these impediments to care, our survey of the American College of Rheumatology members suggests that this is often not the case. In fact, physicians report they frequently find themselves in situations of ethical conflict in an effort to best serve their patients.”

The survey consisted of 14 closed-ended and two open-ended questions and was sent to 5,500 members of the American College of Rheumatology.

Physicians reported ways in which they see themselves as ‘bending’ ethical standards and presented justifications for doing so. Examples included ‘embellishment’ of symptoms to help patients obtain prior authorization from insurance companies; stretching the truth to obtain diagnostic tests and necessary medications and or physical therapy.

rheumatismThe delivery of medical care takes place in a particular social context, and when this context includes conditions that are unfair, healthcare practitioners may be forced to struggle with ethical conflicts, making trade-offs that may go unrecognized or are not adequately discussed.”

Medicine is not merely the scientifically based treatment and care of illness. It also involves ethical issues of right and wrong. In some cases, tough ethical dilemmas force doctors and other health care providers to make difficult decisions, all while upholding the Hippocratic oath to which all doctors are bound.

In today’s health care world, where the number of health care options can be great, medical ethics is of particular concern.Awareness of this problem and its consequences is only the first step in finding solutions to the challenges that physicians face.

Fixing the system in which physicians feel they have to ‘bend’ ethical norms and compromise ethical principles in order to provide the care their patients need, is clearly what’s so desperately needed.

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