1.1 Use of the code
This code seeks to assist and support practitioners to deliver appropriate, effective services within an ethical framework. Practitioners have a professional responsibility to be familiar with this code and to apply the guidance it contains.
This code will be used:
- to support individual practitioners in the challenging task of providing good healthcare and fulfilling their professional roles and to provide a framework to guide professional judgement
- to assist National Boards in their role of protecting the public by setting and maintaining standards of good practice – Boards will use this code when evaluating the professional conduct of practitioners. If professional conduct varies significantly from this code, practitioners should be prepared to explain and justify their decisions and actions and serious or repeated failure to meet this code may have consequences for registration
- as an additional resource for a range of uses that contribute to enhancing the culture of professionalism in the Australian health system: for example, in practitioner education; orientation, induction and supervision of students; and by administrators and policy makers in hospitals, health services and other institutions, and
- as a guide to the public and consumers of health services about what good practice is and the standard of behavior they should expect from health practitioners.
Practitioners must always act in accordance with the law. The code is not a substitute for the provisions of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, as in force in each state and territory (the National Law), other relevant legislation and case law. If there is any conflict between the code and the law, the law takes precedence. Practitioners need to be aware of and comply with, the standards, guidelines and policies of their National Board.
The code does not address in detail the range of general legal obligations that apply to practitioners, such as those under privacy, child protection and antidiscrimination legislation; responsibilities to employees and other individuals present at a practice under workplace health and safety legislation; and vicarious liability for employees under the general law. Practitioners should ensure that they are aware of their legal obligations and act in accordance with them.
This code is not an exhaustive study of professional ethics or an ethics guide. It does not address the standards of practice within individual health professions or disciplines. These standards of practice are generally found in documents issued by the relevant National Boards and/or professional bodies.
While good healthcare respects the rights of patients or clients, this code is not a charter of rights (an example of a charter is the Australian charter of healthcare rights issued by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care.
The focus of this code is on good practice and professional behaviour. It is not intended as a mechanism to address disputes between professional colleagues, e.g. in relation to termination of business relationships and disputes over patients or clients.
1.2 Professional values and qualities
While individual practitioners have their own personal beliefs and values, there are certain professional values on which all practitioners are expected to base their practice. These professional values apply to the practitioner’s conduct regardless of the setting, including in person and electronically, e.g. social media, e-health etc.
Practitioners have a duty to make the care of patients or clients their first concern and to practise safely and effectively. They must be ethical and trustworthy. Patients or clients trust practitioners because they believe that, in addition to being competent, practitioners will not take advantage of them and will display qualities such as integrity, truthfulness, dependability and compassion. Patients or clients also rely on practitioners to protect their confidentiality.
Practitioners have a responsibility to protect and promote the health of individuals and the community.
Good practice is centred on patients or clients. It involves practitioners understanding that each patient or client is unique and working in partnership with patients or clients, adapting what they do to address the needs and reasonable expectations of each person. This includes cultural awareness: being aware of their own culture and beliefs and respectful of the beliefs and cultures of others, and recognising that these cultural differences may impact on the practitioner–patient/client relationship and on the delivery of services. Good practice also includes being aware that differences such as gender, sexuality, age, belief systems and other anti-discrimination grounds in relevant legislation may influence care needs, and avoiding discrimination on the basis of these differences.
Effective communication in all forms underpins every aspect of good practice.
Professionalism embodies all the qualities described here and includes self-awareness and self-reflection. Practitioners are expected to reflect regularly on whether they are practising effectively, on what is happening in their relationships with patients or clients and colleagues, and on their own health and wellbeing. They have a duty to keep their skills and knowledge up to date, refine and develop their clinical judgement as they gain experience, and contribute to their profession.
Practitioners have a responsibility to recognise and work within the limits of their competence and scope of practice. Scopes of practice vary according to different roles; for example, practitioners, researchers and managers will all have quite different competence and scopes of practice. To illustrate, in relation to working within their scope of practice, practitioners may need to consider whether they have the appropriate qualifications and experience to provide advice on over the counter and scheduled medicines, herbal remedies, vitamin supplements, etc.
Practitioners should be committed to safety and quality in healthcare (see the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care and references section at the end of this code).
1.3 Australia and Australian healthcare
Australia is culturally and linguistically diverse. We inhabit a land that, for many ages, was held and cared for by Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians, whose history and culture have uniquely shaped our nation. Our society is further enriched by the contribution of people from many nations who have made Australia their home.
Practitioners in Australia reflect the cultural diversity of our society and this diversity strengthens the health professions.
There are many ways to practise a health profession in Australia. Practitioners have critical roles in caring for people who are unwell, assisting people to recover and seeking to keep people well. This code focuses on these roles. For practitioners with roles that involve little or no contact with patients or clients, not all of this code may be relevant, but the underpinning principles will still apply.
1.4 Substitute decision-makers
There are several conditions or situations in which patients or clients may have limited competence or capacity to make independent decisions about their healthcare; for example, people with dementia or acute conditions that temporarily affect competence and children or young people, depending on their age and capacity (see Section 3.5 Informed consent).
In this code, reference to the terms ‘patients or clients’ also includes substitute decision-makers for patients or clients who do not have the capacity to make their own decisions. These can be parents or a legally appointed decision-maker. If in doubt, seek advice from the relevant guardianship authority.