Medical Professionalism: What does it mean and why does it matter?
Medical professionalism describes the attitudes, skills, behaviours and values shared by those who practice medicine. Professionalism embodies the relationship between medicine and society and forms the basis of a trusting patient-physician relationship.
Physicians have enjoyed a long history of autonomy and respect, but in recent years the profession has faced unprecedented challenges. The trend toward transparency and accountability has resulted in greater oversight of the profession by government and regulatory bodies. In the current climate of resource restraints and contract negotiations, tensions between physicians have been on the rise. As a result, patients’ perception of physicians is on the decline.
At the 2017 Doctors Nova Scotia (DNS) annual conference in June, physicians explored and defined opportunities for the medical profession to get back on track as trusted leaders, mentors and healers.
“While many health-care issues are beyond physicians’ control, to get back on track we must take ownership of those things that are firmly within our domain of influence,” said Dr. André Bernard, DNS Board chair. Dr. Bernard facilitated the conference education sessions on Friday and Saturday.
The education sessions explored medical professionalism from three angles: patient-centred care; system quality and accountability; and intra-professional collaboration. Events included a discussion with panelists who are passionate about medical professionalism, a compelling keynote address and small group discussions.
Approaches to health system planning and health-care delivery are designed around care providers rather than patients. Patients want to be active participants in health-care decision-making, but communication between physicians and patients often breaks down. Research indicates effective communication increases the self-management of chronic disease.
Quality and accountability
There have been many initiatives in this domain recently, including: new criteria for hospital privileges; new academic funding program (AFP) and alternative payment plan (APP) deliverables; upcoming procedural credentialing process; and the provincial government’s increasing demands for accountability and transparency in health-care spending. There is increased system monitoring of medical errors and ordering of unnecessary tests and procedures.
Several issues have created tensions in relationships across the profession. Some general themes include: “doctor bashing,” denigration of family medicine by specialists, pay discrepancies and the abuse of medical learners, residents and early career physicians.