5 Tough New Ethical Dilemmas for Doctors, and How to Deal With Them

Leigh Page


October 02, 2018

In This Article

Ethical Dilemmas Create Difficult Choices

Physicians often have to balance conflicting goals for their patients. Ethical dilemmas in medicine go back to the ancient Greeks, but new ones are arising all the time. These new dilemmas are spawned by trends, such as the need for doctors to see as many patients as possible, the growth of physician employment, or our growing use of smartphones and other forms of telecommunications.

They can also be spawned by events, such as the current opioid epidemic, or by scientific breakthroughs, such as advances in genetic research. These issues affect physicians across all specialties.

What ties all of these dilemmas together is how much they can tug at doctors' basic values: the need to uphold patients' health, allow patients to help decide their care, and keep patients informed about their treatment, to name a few.

Here are five new ethical dilemmas that doctors face—along with suggestions on how to deal with them.

1. Less Time With Patients Might Lead to Poorer Care

The dilemma: Physicians are facing growing pressures to keep their visits brief, making it harder in some cases to provide the correct diagnosis and ensure excellent outcomes.

Issues About Short Visits

Physicians are under enormous pressure to see as many patients as possible, says Clarence H. Braddock III, MD, vice-dean for education at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

"In a high-volume primary care practice, the standard amount or time allotted for each patients is 10-12 minutes," says Braddock, lead author of a 2005 paper, "The Doctor Will See You Shortly: The Ethical Significance of Time for the Patient-Physician Relationship."[1]

Braddock says that short visits force many doctors to concentrate on immediate biomedical issues, such as dealing with a high blood-pressure reading, rather than exploring psychosocial aspects of the patient's life. "True, high blood pressure needs to be addressed," Braddock says, "but the patient's issues are also important."


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