WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2016

Report details responsibilities of health professionals treating Ebola

Ebola and responsibilities of health professionals | Courtesy of sciencedaily.com
The recent Ebola outbreak revealed many practical and ethical concerns about the obligations and responsibilities of health care workers, which has led to a reopening of the risk-benefit debates that originated at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic.

An article recently published in the Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness journal features a discussion among bioethics experts from Johns Hopkins. The experts explained the importance of these issues and the importance of offering care even in nonepidemic areas, including the U.S.

“This latest Ebola outbreak has prompted health care professionals to question the scope of their obligations, both to patients with highly contagious diseases like Ebola and to other patients, in both epidemic and nonepidemic settings,” Jeremy Sugarman, lead author of the article and a bioethics and medicine professor at Johns Hopkins, said. “Now is the time, when we are not mid-disaster, to take a careful, measured approach to finding out what works best in treating Ebola for both patients and the safety of healthcare professionals, utilizing the standard tools of quality improvement research. 

Cynda Rushton, co-author of the article and a clinical ethics professor at Johns Hopkins, said clinicians face a moral predicament of choosing between their trained instinct to treat all patients and the real fear of spreading infection by taking extreme and/or invasive measures that may pose little chance of saving an Ebola patient’s life.

“Fears about Ebola are understandable; it is contagious and often deadly. However, in the United States and other settings with a limited number of infections, it seems possible to keep health care workers safe,” Nancy Kass, a professor of bioethics and public health at Johns Hopkins and co-author of the article, said.

“Institutions have an obligation to disclose their expectations of clinicians, make explicit the processes and protocols that govern practice, outline their scope of commitment to clinicians who become infected, and articulate the consequences to clinicians for failure to fulfill their expected duties,” the article said. “Data will be essential in separating facts from fears."

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