When Guild Interests and Professional Obligations Collide

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Abstract

Physicians who work in medical organizations are called on to fulfill two roles: guild members who work to advance physician interests (eg, lobbying for tort reform) and professional society members who work to advance patient interests (eg, developing clinical guidelines). Most often, physicians' self-interest and their interest in patient well-being align. When they do not, members of a guild or profession may justify the prioritization of self-interest with a form of motivated reasoning (a process wherein physicians weigh data differently depending on whether it supports their a priori beliefs). This allows physicians to frame self-interest as being in the best interests of their patients (eg, tort reform makes malpractice insurance affordable and allows physicians to continue to serve their patients). When interests conflict, physicians must be cognizant of the forces at play, that is, self-interest or in-group interest on the one hand and obligations to patients on the other. This entails recognition and negation of motivated reasoning. Often the most difficult calculus is evaluating proposed actions that would disadvantage physicians but advantage patients. In such cases, the health care provider must be aware not only of the temptation to oppose the action for financial reasons, but also the equally natural temptation to frame the proposal as a threat to patient well-being. Ultimately recognizing that a central tenet of professionalism is the primacy of patient welfare should help physicians both to maintain their fidelity to patient good and to uphold their reputation for altruism.

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