HONOLULU — Ethical challenges occur as the worlds of medicine, journalism and entertainment collide in the mass media marketplace. In response, physicians gathered at the Interim Meeting of the American Medical Association (AMA) approved new ethical guidance to help physicians in the media successfully navigate the sometimes overlapping roles of clinician, consultant, pundit, journalist and media personality.
“Ethical physician conduct in the media offers effective and accessible medical perspectives that lead to a healthier and better-informed society,” said AMA Stephen R. Permut, M.D., former chair of the AMA Board of Trustees. “The newly adopted AMA guidance will help physicians in the media fulfill heightened expectations as credible resources and advisors to patients as well as representatives of the medical profession.”
The new ethical guidance was recommended by a report from the AMA’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs which noted the media industry can have interests and goals that are out of step with physicians’ ethical obligations to patients, the public and the medical profession. The chase for media reach can make it challenging for physicians in the media to maintain a role that holds steady to the norms and values of medicine.
“Disseminating a message that is inaccurate, questionable, or false may be perceived as authoritative when it comes from a physician in a position of public trust,” said Dr. Permut. “Physicians in the media should ensure medical information is accurate and reliable to avoid misleading an audience and undermining the trust bestowed by the public on the medical profession.”
According the newly adopted guidance, physicians who participate in the media should:
(a) Always remember that they are physicians first and foremost, and must uphold the values, norms and integrity of the medical profession.
(b) Encourage audience members to seek out qualified physicians to address the unique questions and concerns they have about their respective care when providing general medical advice.
(c) Be aware of how their medical training, qualifications, experience, and advice are being used by media forums and how this information is being communicated to the viewing public.
(d) Understand that as physicians, they will be taken as authorities when they engage with the media and therefore should ensure that the medical information they provide is:
(ii) inclusive of known risks and benefits,
(iii) commensurate with their medical expertise,
(iv) based on valid scientific evidence and insight gained from professional experience.
(e) Confine their medical advice to their area(s) of expertise, and clearly distinguish the limits of their medical knowledge where appropriate.
(f) Refrain from making clinical diagnoses about individuals (e.g., public officials, celebrities, persons in the news) they have not had the opportunity to personally examine.
(g) Protect patient privacy and confidentiality by refraining from the discussion of identifiable information, unless given specific permission by the patient to do so.
(h) Fully disclose any conflicts of interest and avoid situations that may lead to potential conflicts.
The new AMA guidance for ethical physician conduct in the media will be added to the AMA Code of Medical Ethics, which was modernized last year after an eight year project to ensure physicians have useful and effective ethical direction that keeps pace with emerging demands, new technologies, changing patient expectations and shifting health care priorities.
Robert J. Mills
ph: (312) 464-5970
About the American Medical Association
The American Medical Association is the physicians’ powerful ally in patient care. As the only medical association that convenes 190+ state and specialty medical societies and other critical stakeholders, the AMA represents physicians with a unified voice to all key players in health care. The AMA leverages its strength by removing the obstacles that interfere with patient care, leading the charge to prevent chronic disease and confront public health crises and, driving the future of medicine to tackle the biggest challenges in health care.