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Ethical behaviour of physicians and psychologists: similarities and differences


Objective To compare the coping patterns of physicians and clinical psychologists when confronted with clinical ethical dilemmas and to explore consistency across different dilemmas.

Population 88 clinical psychologists and 149 family physicians in Israel.

Method Six dilemmas representing different ethical domains were selected from the literature. Vignettes were composed for each dilemma, and seven possible behavioural responses for each were proposed, scaled from most to least ethical. The vignettes were presented to both family physicians and clinical psychologists.

Results Psychologists’ aggregated mean ethical intention score, as compared with the physicians, was found to be significantly higher (F(6, 232)=22.44, p<0.001, η2=0.37). Psychologists showed higher ethical intent for two dilemmas: issues of payment (they would continue treating a non-paying patient while physicians would not) and dual relationships (they would avoid treating the son of a colleague). In the other four vignettes, psychologists and physicians responded in much the same way. The highest ethical intent scores for both psychologists and physicians were for confidentiality and a colleague’s inappropriate practice due to personal problems.

Conclusions Responses to the dilemmas by physicians and psychologists can be categorised into two groups: (1) similar behaviours on the part of both professions when confronting dilemmas concerning confidentiality, inappropriate practice due to personal problems, improper professional conduct and academic issues and (2) different behaviours when confronting either payment issues or dual relationships.

  • ethical dilemmas
  • ethical intent
  • physicians
  • psychologists
  • payment
  • dual relationships

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