A doctor’s reputation is based on far more than their skills and medical expertise. Personal and professional integrity is an important factor in building a good reputation and a solid medical practice. Trust is a vital part of the patient/doctor relationship, as patients expect their doctor to act in their best interests in all respects and without that trust they are likely to look elsewhere for treatment. All medical professionals are expected to act with integrity both in their private and professional life to uphold the public’s confidence in the profession.
So what does this mean in practice?
It goes without saying that a doctor should have all the relevant skills, qualifications and expertise necessary to practise, that they should maintain and update their skills with ongoing training and meet the standards of the medical profession. However professionalism extends beyond that into the way doctors conduct themselves: respect for their patients, respectable standards of dress and personal hygiene and appropriate behaviour, all make a difference in establishing trust and confidence; as does having efficient practice management systems in place to keep everything running smoothly. Even more important, integrity is the foundation stone for a doctor’s reputation.
Integrity can be defined as being honest, upright and whole. Being ethical in all their actions, being law-abiding, fair, honest and trustworthy: these are high standards that are expected of doctors, perhaps more so than of any other profession.
Perhaps easier than defining professional behaviour is listing some of the types of unprofessional behaviour that could damage the reputation of a doctor:
• Accepting incentives
• Making false or misleading claims about their practice
• Overcharging patients
• Fraudulently claiming for services that haven’t been rendered
• Providing services to patients that aren’t clinically indicated
• Undertaking procedures without having the relevant training or expertise
• Continuing to practise when impaired in any way
• Abusive or disrespectful behaviour
• Betraying patient confidentiality
• Criminal behaviour
• Dishonest financial dealings
Conflicts of interest
Another difficult area of unprofessional behaviour to define is conflicts of interest. A doctor’s opinions should always be objective and independent. If a doctor’s personal involvement with a patient or their family would make it difficult to make an impartial and independent judgment on a case, this could be considered a conflict of interest. Similarly a conflict of interest might arise if a doctor accepted incentives or financial inducements from pharmaceutical companies or other organisations that might influence a decision or opinion.
A doctor’s professional integrity is as essential as their medical qualifications in maintaining credibility and in establishing a good reputation for their medical practice.