Know the Signs of Unethical and Unprofessional Doctors

Doctors are human; although the old joke goes, some doctors think and act like gods. Finding the right doctor is vital to your health care. When the doctor-patient relationship is not right and proper, leave the relationship and find a new doctor.

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Know the Signs of Unethical and Unprofessional Doctors
4 Min Read May 25th, 2022

When looking for a medical professional to trust with your health, look for positive, reliable qualities — and look out for warning signs of shady or unprofessional behavior. You are not looking for a new best friend; however, you want a doctor who is honest, direct, and listens to what you have to say.

Everybody needs a trustworthy doctor on their side, especially as they grow older. More complex health concerns or multiple health problems impacting your health require extra care and attention, and you want your physician to be as thorough as possible. 

You may know some of the positive attributes to look for, but you should also know how to spot an unethical doctor before you trust them with your care.

Professionalism vs. Ethics

There's a line between unprofessional and unethical, and that line can be difficult to determine. A doctor may have a brusque and insensitive bedside manner yet still provide high-quality medical care. Their behavior may be unprofessional, but it crosses into unethical territory only when it adversely affects your health care.

Find a physician who listens and takes your complaints seriously. When a doctor completely ignores or dismisses your concerns or opinions, you may put yourself in danger.

Discriminatory Behavior

If a doctor cherry-picks their patients and refuses to treat some of them based on their race or gender, they're violating a code of ethics laid out by the medical profession. Some doctors are more dismissive of women's health concerns than those of male patients, for example. Whether intentionally discriminatory or not, you want a doctor who will not dismiss you based on gender or race.

Physicians can ethically refuse to treat some patients, including those who are abusive, or when such treatment falls outside their scope of practice. Some doctors, outside of emergencies, can refuse treatment if someone has no means to pay for the care. Most hospitals are required to provide emergency medical care whether you have insurance or not. 

There are several other situations where a doctor can legally refuse a patient, but the American Medical Association's ethics code prohibits doctors from refusing to treat individuals based on race, gender, and other criteria.

Doctors who refuse to treat patients because of race, gender, or creed might be a doctor you would not want to see.

Obscuring the Truth

Your doctor is responsible for being up-front and transparent with you about your treatment. The American Medical Association's Code of Medical Ethics clearly states that a doctor should be honest and open with patients. As a patient, you have a right to know your current and past medical condition.  

A good physician discusses all available options and listens to the patient's concerns. Doctors should explain why any treatment or surgery is necessary and review other options. Good doctors recommend you get a second opinion before completing serious surgical procedures.

However, if your doctor insists on surgery without exhausting other treatment options, they may be performing an unnecessary surgical procedure that can leave you with complications.

Some doctors recommend unnecessary tests and surgeries purely to earn additional money. Millions of people are ordered screenings, scans, and even surgeries with little or no medical benefit. Everything from duplicate blood tests to unnecessary joint replacements, look for things that might not make sense. 

Keep in mind that sometimes there are sound medical reasons for additional testing. Ask questions and seek a second opinion if you question something.

Confidentiality Breaches

HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is no joke in the medical field. If a doctor discusses other patients' personal health information in your presence, you can't guarantee that they're not equally cavalier with your information. Choose a doctor who takes confidentiality seriously.

The CDC says these HIPAA standards address the use and disclosure of an individuals' health information. There are legal situations where a doctor, clinic, or hospital can disclose information; however, most situations require your approval.

Bedside Manner

You should not be looking for a best friend, but it is often helpful that you get along with your doctor. Some people find it essential for their doctor to have a good bedside manner. If that is important, consider ditching a formal, distant physician.

If you are looking for a new doctor, an introductory appointment might be a good idea so you can interview a potential new physician. 

Not Respecting Your Time

We understand doctors are busy, and sometimes emergencies happen. But if a doctor is always late and has no concern for the value of your time, you should look for another doctor. 

Today, many clinics have 'hospitalists' at area hospitals to handle emergency situations, and patients admitted to the hospital. The day when the doctor made hospital rounds before seeing their patients at the office are numbered. The 'excuse' of running late due to hospital responsibilities is becoming a thing of the past. However, if you want a doctor who will visit you at the hospital, ask before you make them your doctor.

Any doctor who speeds through their exam with you is also not doing their job. Make sure the doctor takes the time with you that who you need and desire. If they don't, go elsewhere.

Office Staff Less Than Professional

While not always true, a doctor's staff reflects them. The receptionists and other support staff are the links between you and the doctor; they need to treat you professionally as well; if not, it could be reflective of the doctor.

Sexual Advances 

Most doctors are appropriate with how they conduct themselves, but there are times they cross the line. A doctor's sexual advances toward a patient are never ok, even if 'consensual.' Sexual misconduct should never be tolerated. Unwanted sexual advances can also cause severe psychological harm. 

This type of behavior is unethical and usually illegal. If questionable conduct occurs, get yourself out of the situation, report it, and find a new doctor.

The Right Doctor is Vital

Choosing the right doctor is a significant life decision, more important than buying a house or a car. Put your health in trustworthy hands by knowing how to spot an unethical doctor, and steer clear of any physician who dismisses your concerns. Be sure to speak up and express concerns with your doctor. If something doesn't feel right, go elsewhere.

Remember, as a patient, you are a consumer. The doctor works for you, and you can choose to select the doctor that meets your needs.

The same thinking should be applied when reviewing hospitals, long-term care facilities, and home health care providers. Whether these providers are yours - or a loved one - you should always expect professionalism. 

Never accept mediocrity, unprofessional or unethical behavior. You and your loved ones deserve better.

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About the Author

Mallory Knee is a freelance writer for multiple online publications where she can showcase her affinity for all things beauty and fashion. She particularly enjoys writing for communities of passionate women who come together for a shared interest and empower one another in the process. In her free time, you can find Mallory trying a fun new dinner recipe, practicing calligraphy, or hanging out with her family.

LTC News Contributor Mallory Knee

Mallory Knee

Contributor since September 25th, 2020

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