Medical Law and Ethics

The importance of ethics in the performance of one’s duties cannot be
gainsaid. Indeed, a large number of sectors have been primarily
concerned with the performance of ethics, especially considering that it
has a bearing on the safety that the institution exhibits to its
customers or clients. This becomes even more important to medical
practitioners and other workers in the medical field as the safety of
the patient may be at stake. This may also result in crippling lawsuits.
However, there are instances where the medical staffs are at a loss, or
rather, in an ethical dilemma as to the course of action that they
should take so as to ensure that the health and safety of the patient is
safeguarded while still following the ethical guidelines. Such is the
case for Jerry McCall, an office assistant at Dr Williams’ office.
Jerry receives a call from an individual who states that he is flying
out in a few hours time, but needs to have his antidepressant medication
refilled. The patient states that he is a personal and close friend of
Dr Williams, who allegedly always refills his antidepressants for him
before he flies out.
As much as Jerry may have sufficient medical training to make
prescriptions, he does not have the capacity to do that as he is not
licensed just yet. He could have had the capacity to do this under Dr.
Williams’ direct supervision if only he was a certified LPN or medial
assistant. Even in instances where the medication was for serious
ailments such as the control of high blood pressure, Jerry would still
not have the authority or even the practicing capacity to refill the
medication unless such an action is a direct authorization of the
doctor. It would have been imperative that the patient directly talks to
the doctor, especially considering that the doctor has knowledge of the
patient’s history and is licensed to order such refills.
If Jerry went ahead and refilled the patient’s antidepressant
medication after which the patient has an adverse reaction to the
medication while flying, Jerry would not be protected from a lawsuit by
the doctrine of Respondeat Superior. The doctrine of Respondeat superior
aimed at providing injured parties with a better opportunity to recover
damages as it states that the employer would be held liable for any
injuries resulting from the actions of an employee who is operating
within the scope of the terms of his employment (Freeman et al, 2000).
This doctrine considers that the doctor, as the principal, has a direct
control of the behavior of the medical assistant, or the agent (Freeman
et al, 2000). In instances where there is factual evidence showing the
existence of a principal-agent relationship, the employer would be held
responsible for any damages or injuries that have resulted from the
actions of the assistant in the course of his employment, as long as it
was within the employment’s scope (Freeman et al, 2000). In the case
of Jerry, he would not be protected from the lawsuit under the concept
of respondeat superior, as offering refills and making prescriptions is
not within the scope of his employment (Freeman et al, 2000).
While it may feel rash or insensitive, it would be imperative that
Jerry, as a medical assistant asks the client to wait for the doctor and
explain to him that he does not have the legal and moral authority to
undertake such duties. He would explain that the doctor has more
comprehensive knowledge of the patient’s history and condition, in
which case he would be best placed to make the refill. This would not
only be the ethically-correct thing to do but would also ensure the
safety of the patient from any health complication, as well as protect
Jerry and his employer from any legal implications pertaining to the
tort.
Jerry’s decision, however, is affected by a number of ethical and
legal issues. First, he would be concerned that the patient is in real
need of the antidepressants. In essence, since the patient, who states
is a personal friend of the doctor, has always had the doctor refill his
antidepressants every time he is going out of town, Jerry may feel that
refilling the patient’s antidepressants would be the appropriate thing
to do. Indeed, he may feel that failure to call in a refill for the
patient may damage to the relationship between the patient and the
healthcare facility and alter the patient’s judgment on the necessity
of refilling his medication. However, there are the legal implications
of Jerry’s actions, as any adverse reactions by the patient may put
Jerry’s job, as well as that of his boss and co-workers in jeopardy in
case of a lawsuit for medical malpractice and negligence.
Nevertheless, varied problem solving techniques would assist in making
an ethical decision. First, the medical assistant would need to strictly
follow the terms and conditions of his employment. These terms outline
the scope of his employment, especially with regard to his roles and
responsibilities (Zerbe et al, 2008). In this case, he would be
protected from any lawsuits as he would be acting within the legal
provisions of his work or position. On the same note, the medical
assistant may consider the action that would be most expected of him or
rather, what would be most beneficial to him (Zerbe et al, 2008). In
this case, he would consider the benefits and weigh them against the
disadvantages, therefore, coming up with the appropriate solution.
References
Freeman, M. D. A., Lewis, A. D. E., & University College, London.
(2000). Current legal issues: Vol. 3. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Zerbe, W. J., Härtel, C. E. J., & Ashkanasy, N. M. (2008). Emotions,
ethics and decision-making. London: Emerald/JAI.
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