Do Physicians Have an Ethical Duty to Repair Relationships with So-Called “Difficult” Patients?
The AMA Journal of Ethic, April 2017
This essay argues that physicians hold primary ethical responsibility for repairing damaged patient-physician relationships. The first section establishes that the patient-physician relationship has an important influence on patient health and argues that physicians' duty to treat should be understood as including a responsibility to repair broken relationships, regardless of which party was "responsible" for the initial tension. The second section argues that the person with more power to repair the relationship also has more responsibility to do so and considers the moral psychology of pain as foundational to conceiving the patient in this case as especially vulnerable and disempowered. The essay concludes with suggestions for clinicians to act on the idea that a healthy patient-physician relationship ought to lie at the center of medicine's moral mission.
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