Ethics

Reporting Incompetent or Unethical Behaviors by Colleagues

Code of Medical Ethics Opinion 9.4.2

Medicine has a long tradition of self-regulation, based on physicians’ enduring commitment to safeguard the welfare of patients and the trust of the public. The obligation to report incompetent or unethical conduct that may put patients at risk is recognized in both the ethical standards of the profession and in law and physicians should be able to report such conduct without fear or loss of favor.

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Reporting a colleague who is incompetent or who engages in unethical behavior is intended not only to protect patients, but also to help ensure that colleagues receive appropriate assistance from a physician health program or other service to be able to practice safely and ethically. Physicians must not submit false or malicious reports.

Physicians who become aware of or strongly suspect that conduct threatens patient welfare or otherwise appears to violate ethical or legal standards should:

(a) Report the conduct to appropriate clinical authorities in the first instance so that the possible impact on patient welfare can be assessed and remedial action taken. This should include notifying the peer review body of the hospital, or the local or state medical society when the physician of concern does not have hospital privileges.

(b) Report directly to the state licensing board when the conduct in question poses an immediate threat to the health and safety of patients or violates state licensing provisions.

(c) Report to a higher authority if the conduct continues unchanged despite initial reporting.

(d) Protect the privacy of any patients who may be involved to the greatest extent possible, consistent with due process.

(e) Report the suspected violation to appropriate authorities.

Physicians who receive reports of alleged incompetent or unethical conduct should:

(f) Evaluate the reported information critically and objectively.

(g) Hold the matter in confidence until it is resolved.

(h) Ensure that identified deficiencies are remedied or reported to other appropriate authorities for action.

(i) Notify the reporting physician when appropriate action has been taken, except in cases of anonymous reporting.

AMA Principles of Medical Ethics: II

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Code of Medical Ethics: Professional Self-Regulation

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