How clinicians make (or avoid) moral judgments of patients: implications of the evidence for relationships and research

Physicians, nurses, and other clinicians readily acknowledge being troubled by encounters with patients who trigger moral judgments. For decades social scientists have noted that moral judgment of patients is pervasive, occurring not only in egregious and criminal cases but also in everyday situations in which appraisals of patients’ social worth and culpability are routine. There is scant literature, however, on the actual prevalence and dynamics of moral judgment in healthcare. The indirect evidence available suggests that moral appraisals function via a complex calculus that reflects variation in patient characteristics, clinician characteristics, task, and organizational factors. The full impact of moral judgment on healthcare relationships, patient outcomes, and clinicians’ own well-being is yet unknown. The paucity of attention to moral judgment, despite its significance for patient-centered care, communication, empathy, professionalism, healthcare education, stereotyping, and outcome disparities, represents a blind spot that merits explanation and repair. New methodologies in social psychology and neuroscience have yielded models for how moral judgment operates in healthcare and how research in this area should proceed. Clinicians, educators, and researchers would do well to recognize both the legitimate and illegitimate moral appraisals that are apt to occur in healthcare settings.

Source: How clinicians make (or avoid) moral judgments of patients: implications of the evidence for relationships and research

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