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The importance of ethics for medical experts

Updated: Mar 12


While morals refers to an individual’s inner compass related to right and wrong, ethics relates to a code of conduct that governs decisions and behaviour within a group, in this case medical practitioners.


The most basic ethical rule of any medical assessment is “do no harm” but what defines good practice for medical experts? Making decisions within a clinical context can be challenging and ethically complex. Healthcare professionals are expected to have a solid ethical framework to ensure that when disputes arise, such as between patients, family members, health care professionals, or other parties, they can successfully navigate through to the best decision for the patient.


The Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) has outlined core ethical values and standards required of health care practitioners, including rules governing confidentiality, record keeping and social media.


Respect and acting in the best interest of the patient


Medical experts must always respect their patient, their innate human rights, and afford them dignity and a sense of worth. Every patient has the right to autonomy and self-determination through making their own informed choices, and to live their lives by their own beliefs, values and preferences.

The greatest ethical imperative of any medical practitioner is the welfare of the patient. The medical expert must always act with non-maleficence avoiding needless harm or injury by acts of commission or omission, or what the layman may call negligence.


Acting with beneficence and doing right, even when the patient’s interests conflict with a practitioner’s self-interest, should be paramount.


Medical experts’ code of conduct


All medical practitioners are expected to operate with integrity, truthfulness, compassion, tolerance and, should treat all patients in an impartial, fair and just manner. Providing the best possible care, using appropriate diagnosis tests, proper testing protocol, being meticulous and devoting the necessary time in performing procedures is expected. Maintaining a professional patient-client relationship at all times is crucial.


Medical professionals also need to continually acquire knowledge and skills within their area of practice and improve their professional competence. Their knowledge and experience should be used within their community for the betterment of society.


Confidentiality and record keeping


Privacy and confidentiality in medical matters is essential. Medical experts must treat all information as confidential and nothing may be released without consent. The only exceptions are when it is required by law or when there are legitimate concerns about a patient’s safety or the safety of others. The death of the patient does not release the practitioner from the duty of maintaining confidentiality.


Besides being used to help facilitate the continuity of care, medical records are also used to inform in cases of medico-legal litigation, and therefore diligent record keeping is an indispensable part of good professional practice.


Ethics and social media


Ethical challenges abound in the online world for all medical professionals and social media is ubiquitous in our modern lives. While it offers many benefits there are also inherent risks to be aware of such as protecting patient confidentiality, keeping strict privacy settings, always posting appropriately and maintaining professional boundaries.


Applying ethical reasoning


Situations will arise within the clinical setting that require impartial ethical reasoning from the practitioner. The medical expert first needs to decide whether they have an ethical issue at hand and to ensure that they have all the facts. From there, one can consider options, alternative solutions and make a moral assessment of the matter.


Once a decision has been made and acted upon, it is important to evaluate the case to see whether it was responded to adequately and whether you would be prepared to act differently in the future. Input from colleagues can be helpful here.


Ethics training for medical experts


Expert Rescue will be conducting specialised ethics training for medical experts working within the medico-legal industry. The training will take place at the end of July 2020 in Centurion, Gauteng and will cover various ethical topics in the healthcare profession.


For more info about the training, please contact admin@expertrescue.co.za or call 066-288-8853.


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