What Are Medical Ethics and Etiquette?

Medical ethics and etiquette are the professional values and protocols that bind medical practitioners such as physicians, doctors, nurses, primary health providers and other health care practitioners to the best practices in the profession. These guidelines dictate the acceptable behaviors of medical practitioners.

Medical ethics refer to systems of principles that apply proper conduct and sound judgment to the practice of medicine. Generally, all practitioners are bound by four basic moral principles. The first is respect for a patient’s autonomy, which means that individual patients have a right to choose their desired treatment and the freedom to refuse some treatment proposed by a physician. The second principle states that practitioners act in the best interest of their patients, including the choice of treatment, urgency of treatment and general advice. The third ethic is the principle of doing no harm to the patient, and the fourth is justice in regards to the distribution of health products and services to a given population.

While medical etiquette is not written law, it refers to the implied codes of practice for medical practitioners to behave in ways deemed socially acceptable. In the United States, the American Medical Association has a code of medical ethics that bind all medical practitioners. Its basic objectives are service to humanity with dignity, respect for human life, use of scientific approaches to medical practice, and honoring the confidences that patients and their families entrust to a physician.