Ethics and professionalism top radiology’s agenda

November 26, 2006

Powerful corporations and Congress make big headlines -- for all the wrong reasons. Scandals plaguing the private and public sectors, however, can provide a wakeup call for radiologists to renew their commitment to ethical behavior, according to RSNA president Dr. Robert R. Hattery.

Powerful corporations and Congress make big headlines - for all the wrong reasons. Scandals plaguing the private and public sectors, however, can provide a wakeup call for radiologists to renew their commitment to ethical behavior, according to RSNA president Dr. Robert R. Hattery.Hattery's speech highlighting this year's theme, "Strengthening professionalism," kicked off the society's 92nd annual meeting. He spoke Sunday in the Arie Crown Theater at McCormick Place.

The ability to obtain credentials and certification as medical professionals comes as a privilege bestowed by the public. Physicians risk losing that privilege if they fall short of their trust's stewardship in the eye of the public, Hattery said. "I believe we are at risk," he said.The public is concerned about errors in medicine and a system that seems to leave them increasingly fending for themselves. Rising business interests and growing commercialism are threatening the core of the medical profession. Waning reimbursement and burnout among physicians make matters even worse. As pressures increase and physicians feel squeezed out, marginalized, and underappreciated, it becomes easier for them to put attention to professionalism on the back burner. Physicians must forge a course that enhances their current standing in society. A renewed commitment to professionalism could get them there, according to Hattery. "You can call it our moment of truth," he said. Hattery pitched a few ideas at bolstering professional behavior among radiologists:

  • Read the physician's charter on medical professionalism in the new millennium published by the American Board of Internal Medicine, the American College of Physicians/American Society of Internal Medicine, and the European Federation of Internal Medicine (Ann Intern Med 2002;136[3]:243-246).
  • Recognize the sacredness of the physician-patient relationship.
  • Give back: mentor, teach, and lead by example.
  • Have the fortitude to identify and deal with unprofessional behavior.
  • Help bolster public confidence.

Following Hattery's speech, a panel moderated by Dr. Gerald D. Dodd III pointed at the quality-based aspects that could help set radiology apart.Dr. Stephen J. Swensen from Rochester, MN, made the case for quality as a business strategy and a market differentiator."We are rapidly becoming a commodity, so we need to flow with data-driven transparency if we want to do the right thing," Swensen said. Finally, Dr. Brent C. James pointed at the relationship between doing good and doing well. Radiologists and other physicians need to put patients at the forefront of any situation. They also need to maintain a special body of knowledge and keep up with teaching and researching. Last, but by no means least, they have to police their ranks, James said. Human virtues such as honesty and respect guide professionalism just as much as robust, carefully peer-reviewed research papers and scholarly articles. Professionalism grows from the shared sensibilities of groups, not just from actions that reflect upon individual standards. But radiologists can't strengthen professionalism until they better understand it, Hattery said. He summed up his presidential address with a simple piece of advice: "Never, ever, do anything you would not do in front of your mother."