Adopted by the 71st WMA General Assembly (online), Cordoba, Spain, October 2020
The patient-physician relationship is part of a human relationship model that dates back to the origins of medicine. It represents a privileged bond between a patient and a physician based on trust. It is a space of creativity where information, feelings, visions, help and support are exchanged.
The patient-physician relationship is a moral activity that arises from the obligation of the physician to alleviate suffering and respect the patient’s beliefs and autonomy. It is usually initiated by mutual consent – expressed or implied – to provide quality medical care.
The patient-physician relationship is the fundamental core of medical practice. It has a universal scope and aims at improving a person’s health and wellbeing. This is made possible by knowledge sharing, common decision making, patient and physician autonomy, help, comfort and companionship in an atmosphere of trust. Trust is an inherent component of the relationship that can be therapeutic in and of itself.
The patient-physician relationship is essential to patient-centred care. It requires both the physician and the patient to be active participants in the healing process. While the relationship encourages and supports collaboration in medical care, competent patients make decisions that direct their care. The relationship may be terminated by either party. The physician must then assist the patient in securing transfer of care and refer the patient to another physician with the necessary ability to continue the care.
The patient-physician relationship is a complex issue subject to myriad cultural, technological, political, social, economic or professional influences. It has evolved throughout history, according to culture and civilisation, in the pursuit of what is most appropriate based on scientific evidence for patients by improving their mental and physical health and well-being and alleviating pain. The relationship underwent deep changes as a result of momentous milestones such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the WMA declarations of Geneva (1948), Helsinki (1964), and the Lisbon (1981).The relationship has slowly progressed towards the empowerment of the patient.
Today, the patient-physician relationship is frequently under threat from influences both within and outside health care systems. In some countries and health care systems, these influences risk alienating physicians from their patients and potentially harming patients. Amongst those challenges likely to undermine the therapeutic efficacy of the relationship, we note a growing trend to:
- A technologization of medicine, sometimes leading to a mechanistic view of health care, neglecting human considerations;
- The dilution of trustworthy relationships between people in our societies, which negatively influences healthcare relationships;
- A primary focus on economic aspects of medical care to the detriment of other factors, posing sometimes difficulties to establish genuine relationships of trust between the physician and the patient.
It is of the utmost importance that the patient-physician relationship addresses these factors of influence in such a way that the relationship is enriched, and that its specificity is warranted. The relationship should never be subject to undue administrative, economic, or political interferences.
Reiterating its Declaration of Geneva, the International Code of Medical Ethics and its Lisbon Declaration on Patient Rights and given the vital importance of the relationship between physician and patient in history and in the current and future context of medicine, the WMA and its Constituent Members:
- Reaffirm that professional autonomy and clinical independence are essential components of high-quality medical care and medical professionalism, protecting the right of the patients to receive the health care they need.
- Urge all actors involved in the regulation of the patient-physician relationship (governments and health authorities, medical associations, physicians, and patients) to defend, protect and strengthen the patient-physician relationship, based of high-quality care, as a scientific, health, cultural and social heritage.
- Call on Constituent Members and individual physicians to preserve this relationship as the fundamental core of any medical action centred on a person, to defend the medical profession and its ethical values, including compassion, competence, mutual respect, and professional autonomy, and to support patient-centred care.
- Reaffirm its opposition to interference from governments, other agents and institutional administrations in the practice of medicine and in the Patient-physician
- Reaffirm its dedication to providing competent medical service in full professional and moral independence, with compassion and respect for human dignity.
- Commit to address emerging factors which could pose a threat to the patient-physician relationship and to take action to mitigate against those factors.