Every healing encounter hinges on trust. Patients must believe their doctor will do what’s best for them.
“The two most basic and important features of every profession are control over a specialized body of knowledge and a commitment to use this knowledge for good,” says chiropractic author David Byfield, D.C “This matters because our patients, and their loved ones, trust us to meet their healthcare needs in a caring, competent and safe environment. We do this for the greater good of society.”
Chiropractic is no exception. Researchers within the profession have labored to conduct cutting-edge studies that demonstrate chiropractic’s value to the medical community as well as to the public—and they’ve made great strides. A recent study conducted by Palmer and Gallup found that more than half of U.S. adults feel positively toward chiropractors, while 52 percent find chiropractors trustworthy and 63 percent agree they have patients’ best interests in mind.
But that still leaves quite a bit of uncertainty about chiropractors’ integrity. To continue shifting public perception toward the positive side of the spectrum, it’s more important than ever that chiropractors observe the ethics of their profession. And that means students need to develop a solid foundation in ethics during their chiropractic training.
Because chiropractic care is performed in “the closest of proximities to the patient,” Byfield says, “anything less than a best practice interaction poses a legitimate risk of breaching the therapeutic intent and subverting the healing encounter.” Some ethical best practices include:
Always act in the best interest of the patient. Patients depend on healthcare professionals for help with problems they can’t handle alone. This makes them vulnerable. “The more urgent our need and the more distress we feel, the greater our vulnerability,” Byfield says. “We, therefore, must trust our caregiver to be sensitive to our vulnerable position and to act only and always in our best interest.”
- Always perform a clinical evaluation before proceeding with chiropractic care.
- Tailor each treatment plan to the patient’s unique needs.
- Continue treatment only as long as it provides therapeutic gain.
Maintain strong professional boundaries. “Boundaries regulate our interactions with others and give us our sense of personal control, privacy, security and safety,” Byfield says. In any profession, it’s always the practitioner’s job to uphold firm boundaries. If a violation occurs, it means the professional has failed to “protect the patient as an individual with dignity and integrity.”
- Always wear clinic attire when observing or treating patients.
- Guard against inappropriate discussion and non-clinical touching.
- Treat patients only in an office or clinical setting.
- Avoid casual or personal time with patients.
Respect patient confidentiality. Like any medical profession, chiropractic demands confidentiality. “Patients consider confidentiality to be crucial; if anything, they believe it is more important than doctors do,” says medical researcher Edzard Ernst, M.D.
Obtain informed consent. Practitioners of complementary medicine often fail to obtain informed consent from the patient before proceeding with treatment. Yet it’s one of the ethical cornerstones of any clinical practice. Patients need to understand the proposed treatment before agreeing to it.
Keep it real. Making unfounded claims about chiropractic treatment hurts everyone in the profession. To maintain a reputation for trustworthiness, chiropractors must be careful not to misrepresent the profession’s capabilities. “Recognize chiropractic’s limitations and acknowledge the special skills of other healthcare professions in the prevention and care of disease,” says the International Chiropractors Association.
Strong ethical training helps guide chiropractors through the dilemmas that naturally arise in a clinical practice. With the patients’ best interests as a guiding light, chiropractors can continue to advance the profession’s reputation among patients and other healthcare professionals alike.