Legal and Medical Issues Influencing Health Professionals
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Different types of laws govern the medical profession just like any other profession. Laws are the rules of conduct enforced by a governing authority. There are two types of law pertaining to health care professionals – criminal law and civil law. Criminal law is a transgression against the state done or not done in violation of public law. A criminal act may be categorized as either a felony or a misdemeanor. A felony consists of crimes against the state that are punishable by death or imprisonment for duration more than one year. An example of a felony in the medical profession is practicing medicine without a license. On the other hand, a misdemeanor is a less grave crime that is punishable by penalties or by custody for a year or less in a facility other than a prison.
Civil law involves offenses committed or omitted against another person. In general, civil law includes torts. In most cases, the remedies sought in civil law include financial compensation by the offender to the injured party and/or awarding of punitive damages if the issue is malicious. Torts could be intentional or unintentional. Intentional torts include torts committed by a person knowingly. They include assault, defamation of character, false imprisonment, fraud, battery, and invasion of privacy. In the health profession, the breach of confidentiality of medical records qualifies as an invasion of a patient’s privacy. If a health practitioner accepts fees from patients and promises the “miracle curing,” they may be sued for fraud. On the other hand, unintentional torts include acts done not anticipating causing harm. However, the actions are irrational or without regard for the consequences. Most of the crimes involved in the health profession are unintentional torts. These acts constitute negligence in legal terms. If a health care practitioner fails to apply ordinary care and a patient suffers injury, they can be charged with negligence. The health care professional only becomes liable when there is a determination that their actions qualify to be a malpractice in the delivery of professional services. Some examples of malpractices in the health profession include postoperative complications, leaving surgical instruments inside the patient’s body after an operation, abandoning a patient, for instance, when a health care giver’s shift ends and they leave before another caregiver is available for the next shift. Delaying treatment of a patient is also an act of negligence. In case of a malpractice, a patient can sue the health care giver for damages.
The law of contract also influences the health profession. A contract is a deliberate agreement between two parties with promises for consideration. A contract has four elements that include offer, intention of legal consequences, acceptance, and consideration. One party must place an offer to the other, and it must be clear to both parties for the contract to be binding. The other party has to accept the offer. For instance, when a health professional acquires a license to practice medicine and opens business, it is an offer to the public. Patients accept the offer by submitting to physical examinations, scheduling appointments, and allowing the physician to perform medical treatment. The fees paid by the patient constitute the consideration in this contract. The contract has to be with a licensed healthcare giver and for a legal purpose, otherwise, it will be void. Law of agency is another law that influences medical professionals. In the medical field, an employee of a doctor acts as the doctor’s agent when carrying out professional responsibilities. Therefore, in case of an employee’s negligence, the doctor bears the liability. However, a patient may sue both the doctor and the employee, as individuals are responsible for their own actions.
Ethics involve the behavior of a person in consideration of what is right or wrong. The medical profession has many ethical dilemmas. Medical practitioners are at times in dilemma when they have to perform an action that is legal, but might be unethical. For example, it might be legal to perform an abortion, but it may not seem ethical to the health care professional. First, confidentiality is an essential issue between the health practitioner and the patient. This issue involves both the law and ethics. Keeping a patient’s information confidentially is ethical, because it shows respect for the other person’s autonomy. The law also defines how the information can be released and to whom. However, in some cases, a health professional may consider it ethical to release some information, especially in cases where a third party is at risk. Sexual relationship with a patient is another issue that challenges the ethics of a medical professional. In the medical and nursing code of ethics, a health officer has a duty to not to get into a sexual relationship with a patient. An ethical health professional will avoid sexual indulgence with a patient, even if the patient is interested in it. In result of the laws against malpractices, the medical practitioners practice defensive medicine. This is usually in an effort to evade a lawsuit. It is unethical to be intentionally negligent. Finally, the law requires a patient’s consent when they have to undergo some medical procedures such as surgery. In other cases, there might be an emergency and the patient may not be able to provide consent. It might also be impossible to contact the patient’s relative for consent. In such emergency cases, the health practitioner will decide what is ethical. In most cases, the ethical thing to do is perform the surgery in an attempt to save the patient’s life.
These legal and ethical principles have a significant effect on the caregivers in a number of ways. First, they have to observe professionalism in their practice. The law also requires all health care professionals to have a license for operation. They should also provide patient’s confidentiality and respect. Breach of these laws has seen several professionals have their medical licenses revoked. Some have even ended behind bars due to misconduct.
To conclude, the health profession is extremely beneficial and plays a vital role in human life. In result, the laws governing it must be strictly observed. The penalties set for breach of these laws should be strictly implemented as a measure to maintain high standards of professionalism. This will also enhance the trust that the public will have in the health department. The health professionals must also follow the code of ethics guiding their actions. In cases where the law is in conflict with the ethics, they have to make a decision on what action they should take. It is clear that there are many issues that are legal, but may not be ethical. For instance, at times, a patient may be kept alive with the help of a life-supporting machine for a time without showing any improvement. This might be burdening the patient’s family financially as well as psychologically. The health professional should consider the ethics when making the decision to switch off the life-supporting machine. They should also consider the legal repercussions of the same issue. In such a way, the legal and ethical issues impact the health professionals in many different ways.
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