American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

AOA Rules and Guidelines on Physicians' Professional Conduct

Professionalism and Physician Responsibilities

Professionalism is a core competency expected of all physicians. Physicians are among the most highly educated and trained professionals in our society and should enjoy the respect of their peers and the community. Society expects them to perform various roles. As health care providers, they diagnose and treat patients; as advisors, they provide patients with an understanding of their health status and the potential consequences of decisions regarding treatment and lifestyles; as advocates, physicians communicate with patients, their patients' caregivers, and their patients' health insurers the needs of the patient; and as counselors, they listen to their patients and discuss their condition with family members and others involved in health care decision-making. Physicians are entrusted by their patients and their patients’ families with private and confidential information, much of which is related to health care, but frequently includes other personal details. 

Osteopathic physicians, in order to enjoy the continued respect and trust of society, recognize the responsibilities and obligations they bear and in order to maintain their status as professionals, must act accordingly. Medical ethics includes many tenets that should guide osteopathic physicians in their professional and personal activities. Although ethics and professionalism encompass broad concepts, some of the recognized elements are:

  • Non-maleficence – first, do no harm

  • Acting as a positive role model

  • Displaying respect in interactions with others

  • Legal and ethical behavior

  • Appropriate management of potential conflicts of interest

  • Beneficence – a physician should act in the best interest of the patient/altruism/placing the needs of the patient first

  • Autonomy – the patient has the right to refuse or choose their treatment

  • Dignity – the patient (and the medical professional involved with their care) has the right to  dignity, truthfulness and honesty

  • Participation in self-evaluation programs and acceptance of constructive criticism from others.

The AOA’s Code of Ethics offers rules to guide physicians in their interactions as physicians with their patients, with society, and with the AOA. This document is intended to supplement the Code of Ethics by providing rules and guidance for physicians’ conduct as professionals in the broader context beyond the traditional role in the delivery of care. Some of the Rules and Guidelines are mandatory (i.e., "shall" or "shall not"), while others are permissive (i.e., "may," “should,” “should not” or “may not”) and recognize a physician’s discretion to assess the specific context and situation and exercise professional judgment.

Finally, the Rules and Guidelines are designed by the AOA to provide guidance to physicians in appropriate professional behavior and to provide a structure for regulating conduct. Any assessment of a physician's conduct must be made with due consideration to the facts and circumstances that existed at the time of the conduct in question and recognize that a physician may have had to act based upon uncertain or incomplete information. The Rules and Guidelines are not intended to be a basis for civil liability. Rather, perceived failure of a physician to comply with an obligation or prohibition imposed by the Code of Ethics or these Rules and Guidelines is a basis for invoking the AOA’s disciplinary process through the Bureau of Membership’s Subcommittee on Ethics.

  1. A physician's conduct shall be consistent with the requirements of the law, whether providing medical/professional service to patients or in conducting business and personal affairs.

  2. Physicians should use their status as professionals only for legitimate purposes and not to take advantage of economic or social opportunities or to harass or intimidate others.

  3. A physician has an obligation to pursue a patient's best interests and to be an advocate for the patient. In so doing, physicians shall conduct themselves in a civil manner.  When appropriate, physicians should disclose and resolve any conflict of interest that might influence decisions regarding care.

  4. Patients may come from any of a broad spectrum of cultures and beliefs. Physicians should conduct themselves with appropriate respect for their patients’ social and cultural needs and provide necessary care without regard to gender, race, color, religion, creed, age, marital status, national origin, mental or physical disability, political belief or affiliation, veteran status, gender identity or sexual orientation.

  5. Physicians are allowed limited autonomy to govern conduct within their own profession through participation on state licensing boards, hospital credentialing committees and in peer review processes. Physicians should fully participate in self-regulation by setting, maintaining, and enforcing appropriate practice standards. Regulations and rules with respect to healthcare delivery shall be developed with the best interests of patient care in mind rather than advancing private interests or protecting friends or colleagues from adverse action. 

  6. Physicians are responsible for observance of the Code of Ethics and these Rules and Guidelines on Professional Conduct. While compliance depends primarily upon understanding of and voluntary compliance with these obligations, physicians should also make efforts to secure their observance by other physicians through expression of formal or informal peer opinion or, when necessary, invocation of disciplinary proceedings. Where a protected peer review process is available, adverse events and medical errors should be fully disclosed.

  7. Physicians should be aware of disparities in medical care within the United States and internationally. Where possible, physicians should assist those less fortunate in securing access to appropriate medical care.