“First do no harm”: the golden rule of the Hippocratic oath that doctors aim to honour in its various modern iterations. But what does it mean in today’s world to practice medicine, ethically?
What are your ethical obligations as a doctor, dietitian, nutritionist, nurse or health coach?
How do you honour these and in what contexts do things need to change in medicine today?
Universal principles govern the conduct of those working within the healthcare sector to ensure that behaviour is ethical. But the topic of ethics becomes especially significant when we start to discuss concepts that are not yet commonly accepted and practiced, or seen as conventional.
The role of the doctor in an ever-changing landscape
Medical and allied healthcare practitioners are required to juggle their limited time with their responsibility to stay informed about the latest science and research as it emerges to keep up with evolving technologies that, in some instances, have transformed the nature of healthcare.
Dr Neville Wellington, co-founder of the Nutrition Network (NN), highlights this new position: “As doctors and other health practitioners, we are constantly being inundated with emails, WhatsApp messages and via other social media. This is in addition to our day-to-day business of actually seeing patients. How we respond in these new situations that have opened up in recent times can often have huge consequences on our professional and private lives, and we need to update ourselves in these areas.”
As technology advances, the landscape of healthcare is changing. Social media has become a virtual consulting room with patients listing their ailments and asking the online world for advice. Doctors and dietitians can consult patients from around the world without ever actually meeting them. But which rules govern these interactions? And are they global? Which law applies – that of the doctors or the patients?
Jayne Bullen, Managing Director of the NN, weighs in, saying: “The truth is, to some extent, medicine has become unethical. It has been taken over and driven by corporations, drug manufacturers and insufficient public health policies and guidelines that make it difficult, if not impossible at times, for the modern doctor to practice ethical medicine. What does that even mean in today’s world with media and social media driving an agenda previously held within the omerta of medicine? I see this daily in the conflicts of our thousands of medical professionals on our training courses and the issues they grapple with. It’s time we looked at the reason the many good doctors we know went into medicine in the first place and at ways to return medicine to the principle of ‘first do no harm’. In this area, there are some big questions around the cholesterol myth and the mistreatment of diabetes for decades. Is it ethical to immediately put a newly diagnosed type 2 diabetic patient onto medication before giving them the opportunity to make effective lifestyle changes first? This is a huge, topical and fascinating area of medicine. If you are in medicine and not talking about and grappling with ethics regularly, you should be.”
Because of these grey areas, two famous medical doctors, Prof Noakes, a South African emeritus professor, and Dr Gary Fettke, an Australian surgeon, were taken to their respective professional councils with charges of giving inappropriate nutritional advice. After an arduous and expensive four-year trial, Noakes was acquitted on all counts. However, Fettke was found guilty of giving nutritional advice out of his scope of practice and was banned from speaking about low carbohydrate nutrition, until the verdict was appealed and finally rescinded. Even though these doctors were found innocent, the ramifications were inconvenient, expensive and traumatic. If it can happen to doctors, how much more might other health professions be left quaking in their boots with fear of far worse consequences when telling their clients or patients what to eat – especially if this advice deviates from conventional dietary guidelines?
New module addresses modern ethical issues
In our new ethics module, we aim to provide clarity on all of these topics, to give practitioners peace of mind that they will be safe in the actions they take. We also tackle some difficult areas that medical professionals navigate, such as how to treat anomalous cases, when to refer and when not to do invasive procedures. This is the fine line many tread in making these calls daily – we aim to advise on how to do this with ethics and dignity in check.
Dr Hassina Kajee, a co-founder of the NN, says: “It is of paramount importance that healthcare practitioners provide the best care to our patients. Care that is scientifically sound and individualised. It is up to us, as healthcare providers, to remain knowledgeable, to continue to empower ourselves as practitioners and to remain or become confident in our knowledge and practice. Many healthcare providers are not aware of their own rights. It is with this in mind that we have developed this ethics module, which aims to enrich the healthcare provider with the knowledge of universal ethical standards of practice.”
The NN ethics module explores the big issues facing the medical/healthcare profession today and the ethical dilemmas of each. Quality insights from industry experts will help you tackle these challenges with confidence.
Speakers include the highly acclaimed and respected advocate Joan Adams, who discusses more modern aspects of practice, such as the safe and ethical use of social media in medical practice, as well as information around a virtual practice. Dr Travis Noakes explores the online harassment of scholars and health professionals and explains how best to respond. Prof Noakes takes us through his ordeal with the HPCSA and offers advice to those who fear they may end up in a similar situation. Dr Neville Wellington and Dr Hassina Kajee also give their personal perspectives on what it means to practice ethical medicine today and advice for other doctors on how to navigate the inclusion of nutritional and lifestyle medicine in a sound, ethical way. And, finally, medical lawyer Jan Vyjidak joins the NN again to deliver a lecture on the ethical and legal challenges we face when using new treatments that are not endorsed by clinical guidelines.
Dr Kajee concludes: “As the NN, we want to do our part to help our practitioners navigate the pitfalls that may arise. In creating the Ethics module, our hope is that we keep interactions between practitioner and patient positive and that we are not part of escalating issues (especially around nutrition), but rather deal kindly and factually in this area.”
The ethics module is due for release on 1 April 2020 and enrolment is open to everyone.
Price: $300 (ZAR3500)
Early bird price until 1 April 2020: $210 (ZAR3000)
To enrol at the early bird price, follow this link.
Should you wish to enrol in a bundle of 3 Elective Modules (released throughout 2020) you may do so at the early bird price of $600.
If you are following our Certification Path to become a certified Nutrition Network Practitioner, you will need to complete at least 3 Elective Modules.