1.1 Purpose of the code
Good medical practice (the code) describes what is expected of all doctors registered to practise medicine in Australia. It sets out the principles that characterise good medical practice and makes explicit the standards of ethical and professional conduct expected of doctors by their professional peers and the community. The code was developed following wide consultation with the medical profession and the community. The code is addressed to doctors and is also intended to let the community know what they can expect from doctors. The application of the code will vary according to individual circumstances, but the principles should not be compromised.
This code complements the Australian Medical Association Code of ethics1 and is aligned with its values, and is also consistent with the Declaration of Geneva and the international code of medical ethics2, issued by the World Medical Association.
This code does not set new standards. It brings together, into a single Australian code, standards that have long been at the core of medical practice.
The practice of medicine is challenging and rewarding. No code or guidelines can ever encompass every situation or replace the insight and professional judgment of good doctors. Good medical practice means using this judgement to try to practise in a way that would meet the standards expected of you by your peers and the community.
1AMA code of ethics.
2WMA International Code of Medical Ethics.
1.2 Use of the code
Doctors have a professional responsibility to be familiar with Good medical practice and to apply the guidance it contains.
This code will be used:
- to support individual doctors in the challenging task of providing good medical care and fulfilling their professional roles, and to provide a framework to guide professional judgement
- to assist the Medical Board of Australia in its role of protecting the public, by setting and maintaining standards of medical practice against which a doctor’s professional conduct can be evaluated. If your professional conduct varies significantly from this standard, you should be prepared to explain and justify your decisions and actions. Serious or repeated failure to meet these standards may have consequences for your medical registration
- as an additional resource for a range of uses that contribute to enhancing the culture of medical professionalism in the Australian health system; for example, in medical education; orientation, induction and supervision of junior doctors and international medical graduates; and by administrators and policy makers in hospitals, health services and other institutions.
The code applies in all settings. It is valid for technology-based patient consultations as well as for traditional face-to-face consultations and also applies to how doctors use social media. To guide doctors further, the Medical Board of Australia has issued Guidelines for technology-based patient consultations.3
3Section 39 of the National Law and Guidelines for technology-based patient consultations issued by the Medical Board of Australia.
1.3 What the code does not do
This code is not a substitute for the provisions of legislation and case law. If there is any conflict between this code and the law, the law takes precedence.
This code is not an exhaustive study of medical ethics or an ethics textbook. It does not address in detail the standards of practice within particular medical disciplines; these are found in the policies and guidelines issued by medical colleges and other professional bodies.
While good medical practice respects patients’ rights, this code is not a charter of rights.4
4The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care’s Australian charter of healthcare rights.
1.4 Professional values and qualities of doctors
While individual doctors have their own personal beliefs and values, there are certain professional values on which all doctors are expected to base their practice.
Doctors have a duty to make the care of patients their first concern and to practise medicine safely and effectively. They must be ethical and trustworthy.
Patients trust their doctors because they believe that, in addition to being competent, their doctor will not take advantage of them and will display qualities such as integrity, truthfulness, dependability and compassion. Patients also rely on their doctors to protect their confidentiality.
Doctors have a responsibility to protect and promote the health of individuals and the community.
Good medical practice is patient-centred. It involves doctors understanding that each patient is unique, and working in partnership with their patients, adapting what they do to address the needs and reasonable expectations of each patient. This includes cultural awareness: being aware of their own culture and beliefs and respectful of the beliefs and cultures of others, recognising that these cultural differences may impact on the doctor–patient relationship and on the delivery of health services.
Good communication underpins every aspect of good medical practice.
Professionalism embodies all the qualities described here, and includes self-awareness and self-reflection. Doctors are expected to reflect regularly on whether they are practising effectively, on what is happening in their relationships with patients 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.
1.5 Australia and Australian medicine
Australia is culturally and linguistically diverse. We inhabit a land that, for many ages, was held and cared for by Aboriginal and 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.
Doctors in Australia reflect the cultural diversity of our society, and this diversity strengthens our profession.
There are many ways to practise medicine in Australia. The core tasks of medicine are caring for people who are unwell and seeking to keep people well. This code focuses primarily on these core tasks. For the doctors who undertake roles that have little or no patient contact, not all of this code may be relevant, but the principles underpinning it will still apply.
1.6 Substitute decision-makers
In this code, reference to the term ‘patient’ also includes substitute decision-makers for patients who do not have the capacity to make their own decisions. This can be the parents - or a legally appointed decision-maker. If in doubt, seek advice from the relevant guardianship authority.