The Ethics of Complex Relationships in Primary Care Behavioral Health


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Abstract

Primary care settings are particularly prone to complex relationships that can be ethically challenging. This is due in part to three of the distinctive attributes of primary care: a whole family orientation; team-based care; and a longitudinal care delivery model. In addition, the high patient volume of primary care means that the likelihood of encountering ethically challenging relationships is probably greater than in a specialty setting. This article argues that one ethical standard of the American Psychological Association (APA, 2010, Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct,www.apa.org/ethics/code) (10.02, Therapy Involving Couples or Families) should be revised to better accommodate the work of psychologists in primary care. The corresponding Principles of Medical Ethics from the American Medical Association (AMA, 2012, Code of medical ethics: Current opinions with annotations, 20122013, Washington, DC: Author), most notably the principle regarding a physician's duty to “respect the rights of patients, colleagues, and other health professionals as well as safeguard privacy” are also noted. In addition, the article details how the three attributes of primary care often result in complex relationships, and provides suggestions for handling such relationships ethically.

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