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ACP Issues Revised Ethics Manual

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, January 5, 2012

The American College of Physicians this week issued a sixth edition of its ethics manual, the first rewrite since 2005.

The revised manual, published in ACP's flagship Annals of Internal Medicine, offers new guidance on longstanding issues such as end-of-life care, physician-industry relations, and ethics in medical research.

The manual also tackles emerging issues such as the role of social media and its impact on the physician-patient relationship, the growth and impact of the physician-employee model, treating celebrities in the age of Twitter, and physicians' dual role of serving patients' needs while also marshalling scarce or expensive healthcare resources.

"We're always facing challenging ethical issues," ACP President Virginia L. Hood, MBBS, told HealthLeaders Media.

"The common thread is to do what's in the best interests of the patient."
Hood, who also teaches at the University of Vermont College of Medicine in Burlington, says the growth of social media such as Twitter and Facebook has created potentially huge ethical sinkholes for physicians who don't use them correctly. 

"The boundaries may be blurred as physicians and patients interact more via social media, which is really the public domain," Hood says. "People use these in a private way and in a professional way, and it is important for physicians to recognize that and don't let the ease of using these social media create problems with the patient physician relationship or the profession itself. We have to make sure our professional demeanor is maintained whenever we are in the public eye."

Hood says the growth in the physician-employee model may resolve some ethical issues while raising new challenges.

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