The astonishing array of personal information available at our fingertips has had two very different effects on our society, our healthcare system and on us as healthcare professionals. One is the growing awareness that we need to safeguard our privacy from the technology that has encroached on virtually every part of our lives. The other is the increasing importance we all place on our right to make informed choices about the things that affect us. As healthcare professionals, we have the ability to significantly impact the lives of our patients, and they trust us to make good decisions regarding their care and wellbeing. So what happens when we make bad decisions in our personal life? Does that make us more likely to make bad decisions in our professional life? Maybe.

We all make mistakes. Suppose an RT drinks a little too much at a Christmas party, tries to drive home, get pulled over by the police, and is charged with DUI. Not a good thing, but it happens; and it is unlikely that anyone would think any less of them as a healthcare professional as a result of one mistake. However, what if the same thing happened again on New Year’s Eve and yet again not long after the RT’s license is returned to him a year later? At what point do we feel that their drinking and driving has moved from being a mistake to a conscious (albeit somewhat inebriated) choice? We all know the dangers to ourselves and others when mixing alcohol with gasoline. So it may be argued that repeatedly choosing to do so demonstrates a pattern of poor decision-making – as well as an unwillingness to put the needs and safety of others above one’s own. Does it mean that they might apply the same flawed and self-centered reasoning when providing patient care? It’s difficult to guess, but a pattern of poor decision making may demonstrate that there is something going on with the RT that needs to be investigated (i.e., alcoholism, depression, etc.).

Let’s turn it around. It’s January 2nd and your child is about to undergo a routine surgical procedure. The surgeon who is about to operate on her has been charged with 3 DUIs over the past 2 years. Would you want to know that? What if we changed the DUI charges to theft under $5000 – or possession of stolen property – or domestic assault – ? I know it’s a bit different for Respiratory Therapists, in that our patients don’t always have an opportunity to choose us in the same way that they choose their physiotherapist or physician. This is likely to change, however, as more complex respiratory care moves into the community. Regardless, patients’ increasingly demand access to information that will enable them to make educated choices about who they entrust with their care. As healthcare professionals, we need to be aware of changing expectations.

Carole Hamp

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