Acupuncture and Oriental medicine practitioners should be well-informed about medical ethics, how they are incorporated into their practice and the legalities surrounding them. Medical ethics are a very important part of being a healer and, in the United States and Canada, more than 25 universities offer degrees in medical ethics as a specialty. In many instances, the subject of ethics is also part of the curriculum in the education of physicians and other healthcare professionals. These rules and laws offer a framework within which the acupuncture practitioner can act in the best interest of the patient.
For a healthcare practice of any discipline or specialty to be considered "ethical," it must respect all four principles of medical ethics which are:
Autonomy: The patient has the independence or freedom to make their own decisions regarding health care. Thoughtful communication between the patient and the healthcare provider may lead to a better outcome, as the patient is more of an active participant in their health.
Beneficence: A principle that asserts a moral obligation to act for the benefit of others. All healthcare providers must strive to improve their patient’s health, and to do the most good for the patient.
Nonmaleficence: The practice of not inflicting harm intentionally. “First, do no harm” is the bedrock of medical ethics. In every situation, healthcare providers should avoid causing harm to their patients.
Justice: This principle demands that you should try to be as fair as possible when offering treatments to patients and in allocating resources. You should be able to justify and document your actions as being necessary/unnecessary for treatment in every situation.
Additional principles expanding on those concepts that healthcare providers should abide by include:
Informed Consent: This principle expands on the principle of patient autonomy, and valid informed consent is required before you may provide care. While Informed consent can be said to have been given based upon a clear appreciation and understanding of the facts, implications, and future consequences. In health care, for a patient to give valid informed consent the three components of disclosure, capacity and voluntariness must be present.
In Principles of Biomedical Ethics, Beauchamp and Childress identify seven elements of informed consent which include the threshold elements of competence and voluntariness; the information elements of disclosure, recommendation, and understanding; and the consent elements of decision and authorization.
Disclosure: This principle further expands the principles of patient autonomy and informed consent and specifies that for the patient to make informed choices, the healthcare provider must disclose information that is materially relevant to the patient's condition, their treatment options, and likely outcomes including both benefits and risks associated with those options.
Confidentiality: Patient confidentiality forms a cornerstone of the provider-patient relationship, even though it is increasingly difficult to maintain with the growth of electronic data.
As explained by the AMA's Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, the purpose of a healthcare provider's ethical duty to maintain patient confidentiality is to allow the patient to feel free to make a full and frank disclosure of information to the healthcare provider with the knowledge that he/she will protect the confidential nature of the information disclosed. Full disclosure enables the physician or other healthcare provider to diagnose conditions properly and to treat the patient appropriately. In return for the patient's honesty, the physician or other health care provider generally should not reveal confidential communications or information without the patient's express consent unless required to disclose the information by law. There are exceptions to the rule, such as where a patient threatens bodily harm to himself or herself or to another person.