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Opinion 10.015 - The Patient-Physician Relationship

The practice of medicine, and its embodiment in the clinical encounter between a patient and a physician, is fundamentally a moral activity that arises from the imperative to care for patients and to alleviate suffering.

A patient-physician relationship exists when a physician serves a patient’s medical needs, generally by mutual consent between physician and patient (or surrogate). In some instances the agreement is implied, such as in emergency care or when physicians provide services at the request of the treating physician. In rare instances, treatment without consent may be provided under court order (see Opinion 2.065, "Court-Initiated Medical Treatments in Criminal Cases"). Nevertheless, the physician’s obligations to the patient remain intact.

The relationship between patient and physician is based on trust and gives rise to physicians’ ethical obligations to place patients’ welfare above their own self-interest and above obligations to other groups, and to advocate for their patients’ welfare.

Within the patient-physician relationship, a physician is ethically required to use sound medical judgment, holding the best interests of the patient as paramount. (I, II, VI, VIII)

Issued December 2001 based on the report "The Patient-Physician Relationship," adopted June 2001.