What is medical professionalism?
Medical professionalism is the basis of medicine’s contract with society. It demands placing the interests of patients above those of the physician, setting and maintaining standards of competence and integrity, and providing expert advice to society on matters of health.
Medical professionalism prompts a thorough examination of the underlying causes of ill health in people and communities. The social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age, including the health system. These circumstances are shaped by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national, and local levels, which are themselves influenced by policy choices. The social determinants of health are mostly responsible for health inequities- the unfair and avoidable differences in health status seen within and between countries. For a more in depth look, visit the WHO-social determinants website.
The medical profession is confronted by an explosion of technology, changing market forces, problems in health care delivery, bioterrorism, and globalization. As a result, physicians find it increasingly difficult to meet their responsibilities to patients and society. These challenges center on increasing disparities among the legitimate needs of patients, the available resources to meet those needs, the increasing dependence on market forces to transform health care systems, and the temptation for physicians to forsake traditional commitment to the primacy of patients’ interests.
The human rights basis for professionalism in health care
The principles of patient welfare and social justice are central to the right to health and medical professionalism. The commitment to improving access and quality of care mirror the right to health’s fundamental “AAAQ” framework, a notion that asserts that health services be available, accessible, acceptable, and of good quality. Finally, the commitment to science and the assurance of confidentiality are critical concepts to a human rights approach to health.
Health professional responsibilities can be met through a rights based approach to health utilizing human rights framework to achieve goals of accountability, participation, nondiscrimination, and universality. Examples of the use of a rights-based approach are improvement of patient care, building community health, and enhancing health policy.
Improve patient care
Employ the human rights principles of participation and non-discrimination to improve individual patient care, enhance cultural competency, recognize root causes of disease, and help people stay healthier longer.
Build community health
Apply the right to health principles of providing accessible, affordable, acceptable, quality care to build health systems that work, and recognize social determinants of health that can be addressed through programming that connects clinics with communities.
Enhance health policy
Use human rights as a platform to advocate for the closing of racial disparities by increasing funding for low income health care, to fight for immigrant health care, and to ensure that global health programs build systems that address fundamental health needs.
PHR Student Toolkit: Professionalism in Medicine
In conjunction with the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation, which has released a Physician Charter that guides health professionals in medical professionalism, PHR has created a Medical Professionalism Toolkit for you to learn more.