Medical professionals are held to a high standard of conduct both by their peers and by the public, who form the majority of their patient base. As such, the way a medical professional treats, communicates with and behaves around their patients is extremely important to maintain their integrity, the integrity of the medical industry, and the dignity of their patients. Below, we have summarised the intricacies of ethics in the medical industry to help you better understand the expectations of your role, and where to find more information.

Why Are Ethics Important Across Industries?

In order to understand why ethics are so important, particularly when they are set out in writing, first it will be valuable to truly understand what ethics are. They can be defined as moral principles which guide professionals in making the ‘right’ choices.

When examining a specific problem, medical professionals must use values, facts and logic to determine what the most appropriate course of action is. Sometimes, medical problems are simple or straightforward, and there is a clear difference between the right and wrong solution.
In other cases, there may be more than one right answer, or more than one value system in the mix.

Conundrums like these require an ethical medical professional to adhere to their professional code of conduct to make a logical and sensitive decision.

Key Values for Ethical Decision-Making

To help medical professionals work their way through ethical dilemmas, there are four basic values or principles that they should use to decode the issue and construct an ethical and effective solution.

  • Autonomy: Patients can rightfully decide on their own healthcare treatment.
  • Justice: The benefits and burdens of healthcare should be distributed across society.
  • Beneficence: The patient’s best interest must be of utmost importance.
  • Non-malfeasance: Ensuring that the professional does not harm the patient.

These are the four basic principles that should be considered when making decision regarding the care of your patient. However, it is important to uphold certain personal characteristics in order to be a professional healthcare provider. These are:

  • Transparency
  •  Truthfulness
  • Respectfulness
  • Empathy

What Constitutes Professional Conduct?

Now that we have explored the important of ethics and what behaviour should form the basis of your ethical decision making, we want to touch on professional conduct and what that implies for the average medical professional.

Professional conduct is more of a blanket term that includes ethics, morals and certain standards of behaviour. As a medical professional, this includes the above ethical considerations, the code of conduct as put forth by the HPCSA and recommendations on professional healthcare conduct.

Ultimately, when you sign up to the code of conduct from the HPCSA, you commit to maintaining certain behaviours and attitudes, and understand that these will be expected of you. These behaviours and attitudes help you to provide healthcare that is safe and guaranteed.

Where to Find Your Code of Conduct

The Health Professions Council of South Africa regulates the health professions throughout the country with regards to registration, education, training, professional conduct and ethical behaviour. The Council ensures that continuous professional development takes place, and that these standards are complied with nationally.

You can find a comprehensive set of resources regarding your ethical code of conduct at the HPCSA website, here.

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