AMA adopts plan for pandemic

A new AMA policy says in such a crisis doctors must put the public's health before an individual patient's best interests.

By Kevin B. O’Reilly — Posted Nov. 28, 2005

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Dallas -- With the potential of an avian flu pandemic on the horizon, the American Medical Association's House of Delegates at its Interim Meeting adopted new policy aimed at ensuring that any quarantine to lessen the devastation be based on science and executed ethically.

"Physicians need to be involved in helping public health officials determine what the appropriate interventions are," said Rebecca J. Patchin, MD, a member of the AMA's Board of Trustees and a Riverside, Calif., pain medicine specialist.

At the heart of matter is a conflict of values, according to a report the Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs issued.

"When treating individual patients, physicians are obligated to hold the best interests of the patient as paramount," says the report presented by CEJA Chair Priscilla Ray, MD, a Houston psychiatrist. "However, these individually centered concerns for personal liberties can undermine public efforts to protect the health of the population."

The CEJA opinion that the House of Delegates adopted without objection says physicians should ensure that any quarantine is the least restrictive possible, is based on valid science, and doesn't "arbitrarily target" the poor or racial and ethnic minorities. Physicians should also advocate for patient confidentiality, encourage patients to adhere voluntarily to quarantine measures and comply with mandatory reporting requirements.

The opinion also says physicians working on the front lines are especially obligated to take preventive measures such as personally getting vaccinated.

The medical profession should advocate for robust public health services to "prevent undue delays" in implementing a quarantine, the opinion says.

Lastly, physicians should help educate patients and the public about quarantine through educational materials and programs.

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