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Medical Ethics and Laws

Medical Ethics and Laws on the Refusal of Treatment Before Payment

Medical ethics and laws in South Africa protect patients from unethical and illegal conduct by health professionals. The action of a health professional, however, can be within the boundaries of the laws from South Africa, but it does not mean it is in accordance with medical ethics.

According to the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA), medical ethics are the moral principles governing the healthcare industry, ensuring that certain standards must be adhered to in conduct. Healthcare practitioners must adhere to the guidelines for ethics and ensure their conduct is in compliance with the relevant laws in South Africa.

Questions, such as whether or not a medical professional can require a patient to pay up front for treatment, come to mind. To this end, an article in the South African Medical Journal (2011) titled “Medical Ethics and the Payment of Fees Before Treatment” by McQuoid-Mason D, discusses the topic in-depth.

Healthcare practitioners can, according to the relevant laws of the country, accept or refuse patients at their own discretion, except for medical emergencies or for reasons that are unconstitutional.

The practitioner, however, enters into a doctor-patient relationship once the patient is accepted. The terms of payment can be determined in advance. To this end, it is thus still within the boundaries of ethics and the medical laws of the country to require payment in advance.

Once the doctor-patient relationship is established, the practitioner agrees to the ethics as set out by the HPCSA. The practitioner agrees to diagnose the patient, treat the patient’s condition, get informed consent before applying treatment, and to respect the patient’s right to privacy and confidentiality. The doctor agrees to treat the patient, unless a referral to another professional is needed, and to continue treatment at a reasonable standard with due care and competence. The healthcare professional also undertakes not to abandon the patient until reasonable arrangements have been made or the condition has been cleared up.

This means the practitioner cannot abandon the patient mid-way through the treatment because of the patient’s inability to pay for the extra time required for treatment. According to the HPCSA, the fees charged must be reasonable. The patient is also entitled to an accurate account for the treatment within a reasonable time frame. Even if the doctor spends extra time with the patient, they cannot charge more than the consultation fee agreed upon.

This raises the question of whether or not a private healthcare facility can turn a patient away if the patient is not able to pay for the treatment upfront. As mentioned earlier, the facility can refuse or accept patients as they see fit, provided the patients are not in need of emergency treatment.

In Case of Emergency

It is an emergency if the patient’s life is in danger should treatment not be given immediately or within a reasonable time to prevent complications. To this end, the Healthcare Act of South Africa also protect the right to emergency treatment. In addition, doctors must act within the ethics of the profession in putting the welfare of the patient before profits.

If you have suffered physical injury and damages as the result of being turned away by a healthcare facility whilst it was a medical emergency, you have the right to compensation for such damages suffered. Call Adele van der Walt Incorporated for professional assistance in determining whether such was malpractice and thus against the healthcare ethics and laws of the country.

Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Call on our attorneys for legal advice, rather than relying on the information herein to make any decisions. The information is relevant to the date of publishing – September 2019.

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