The Medical Board of Australia has published a new Code of Conduct for Australian doctors titled Good Medical Practice.
It describes what is expected of all doctors to deliver good medical practice and sets out standards of ethical and professional conduct.
It is a document for doctors, but it helps let the community know what they can and should expect from doctors. The Code is something our team of health lawyers understand so we can advise clients if we believe a doctor has breached their obligations.
The code complements the Australian Medical Association Code of ethics.
I should point out that while the Code is newly published it does not set new standards. It brings together long-established standards of good medical practice into a single Australian code.
It is a lengthy document but here are some key points that are useful for patients and the community. Patients have to trust doctors to be competent, not take advantage of them and display qualities such as integrity, truthfulness, dependability and compassion. Patients rely on their doctors to protect their confidentiality.
What duty of care do doctors have?
- doctors have a duty to make the care of patients their first concern and to practise medicine safely and effectively. They must be honest, ethical, and trustworthy
- doctors have a responsibility to protect and promote the health of individuals and the community
- good medical practice is patient-centred. Good medical practice also involves practising in a way that is culturally safe and respectful
- good communication underpins every aspect of good medical practice
- good medical practice requires doctors to reflect regularly on their practice and its effectiveness, consider what is happening in their relationships with patients and colleagues, and look after their own health and wellbeing. Doctors have a duty to keep their skills and knowledge up to date.
What is good patient care?
Good patient care recognises that making clinical decisions is a shared responsibility of the doctor and the patient. It includes:
- assessing the patient, considering the patient’s medical history, the patient’s views, and an appropriate physical examination
- formulating and implementing a suitable management plan (including arranging investigations and providing information, a diagnosis, treatment, and advice)
- facilitating coordination and continuity of care
- referring a patient to another practitioner when this is in the patient’s best interests or as required by legislation
- ensuring you have adequate knowledge and skills to provide safe clinical care
- maintaining adequate records
- considering the balance of benefit and harm in all clinical-management decisions
- communicating effectively with patients
- providing treatment options based on the best available information
- only recommending treatments when there is an identified therapeutic need and/or a clinically recognised treatment
- supporting the patient’s right to seek a second opinion.
Access to medical care
A doctor’s decisions about patients’ access to medical care must be free from bias and discrimination. Good medical practice involves:
- always treating your patients with respect
- not prejudicing your patient’s care because you believe that a patient’s behaviour has contributed to their condition
- discriminating against your patient
- giving priority to investigating and treating patients based on clinical need and the effectiveness of the proposed investigations or treatment.
What is a good doctor–patient partnership?
A good doctor–patient partnership requires high standards of professional conduct. It involves:
- being courteous, respectful, compassionate, and honest
- treating each patient as an individual
- protecting patients’ privacy and right to confidentiality, unless release of information is required or permitted by law
- encouraging and supporting patients, and their carer or family, to care for themselves and manage their health
- encouraging and supporting patients to be well informed about their health
- recognising that there is a power imbalance in the doctor–patient relationship, and not exploiting patients in any way, including physically, emotionally, sexually, or financially.
Effective communication is key to good medical care
Doctors are expected to listen and ask for patients’ views and respond to their concerns and preferences. They should give patients adequate opportunity to question or refuse intervention and treatment.
Doctors must gain ‘informed consent’ from a patient or substitute decision maker. They need to consider any advance care directives. Discussing with patients their condition and the available management options, including their potential benefit and harm and material risks is very important. We see this as a major issue in many of the medical negligence cases that we handle for clients. Doctors need to provide information to patients in a way you can understand before asking for your consent.
Confidentiality and privacy
Patients have a right to expect that doctors and their staff will hold information about them in confidence, unless release of information is required or permitted by law. They should only access your medical record when there is a legitimate need.
When something goes wrong, doctors have a responsibility to be open and honest in their communication, to review what has occurred and to report appropriately. They need to inform patients promptly, acknowledge distress, provide support and acknowledge changes to reduce the risk of the issue happening again.
Patients who are dissatisfied have a right to complain about their care. When a complaint is made, good medical practice involves:
- acknowledging the patient’s right to complain
- providing information about the complaints system
- working with the patient to resolve the issue, locally where possible
- providing a prompt, open and constructive response, including an explanation and, if appropriate, an apology
- ensuring the complaint does not adversely affect the patient’s care. In some cases, it may be advisable to refer the patient to another doctor
- complying with relevant complaints law, policies and procedures
- reflecting on the complaint and learning from it.
What if my doctor is not following the Code of Conduct or has not provided me with proper care?
- You can complain to your doctor or the medical practice or health facility for whom they work
- You can make a complaint to the Health Care Complaints Commission
- You can contact one of our expert, caring health lawyers who will listen to you and be able to suggest appropriate action. To confidentially discuss your needs call us on 1800 874 949 or fill in the form below, and we will be in touch.