Ethical Dilemmas Docs Face With Athletes

A preliminary study reveals doctors are not practicing principles of good health care when treating athletes because of pressure from coaches, management and the media.

Researchers from the Bioethics Center in New Zealand questioned specialist doctors on some of the ethical dilemmas they face. Of 45 surveys distributed, 18 were returned.

The most commonly reported issue was regarding confidentiality and privacy. Doctors said coaches and management frequently demanded information about players’ health. The media also requested this information.

Doctors also reported disclosing private information about players to a third party on the grounds of safety. These issues included hepatitis B infection, the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and a pregnancy.

Half of the doctors said they felt under pressure from players and coaches to return an injured athlete to the field too soon.

Other problems the surveys uncovered included the use of painkillers or other techniques to allow injured players to continue and insufficient time to assess a medical problem during play.

Some doctors reported an overall feeling of professional isolation and lack of support when faced with ethical dilemmas.

Researchers conclude, “Sports management does not have the same regard for traditional notions of confidentiality, privacy, or the patient’s long-term welfare.”

SOURCE: Journal of Medical Ethics, 2005;31:88-92

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