New Standards of Professional Conduct for the Practice of Medicine Issued

Developments in Mental Health Law, January 2006 | Go to article overview

New Standards of Professional Conduct for the Practice of Medicine Issued


The Virginia Board of Medicine has issued new regulations governing the professional conduct of practitioners of medicine (as well as osteopathy, podiatry, and chiropractic), many of which have relevance for mental health professionals. A violation of these standards can result in the imposition of sanctions by the Board.

Under the new standards, a bona fide practitioner-patient relationship must exist before treatment or prescriptions can be provided. The practitioner can not prescribe to himself or a family member a controlled substance unless there is an emergency or no other qualified practitioner is available, or the prescription is for a single episode of an acute illness through one prescribed course of medication.

A practitioner is generally required to accurately inform a patient or the patient's legally authorized representative (LAR) of the medical diagnosis, prognosis, and prescribed treatment or plan of care. Further, a practitioner cannot deliberately make a false or misleading statement regarding the practitioner's skill or the value of a particular treatment or medication. Information regarding care must be provided to the patient or his LAR in understandable terms and participation in decisions regarding the patient's care encouraged.

Informed consent must be obtained before any invasive procedure is performed and the patient must be informed of the risks, benefits, and alternatives that a reasonably prudent practitioner in a similar practice in Virginia would tell a patient. If the patient is a minor or is incapable of making or communicating an informed decision because of a physical or mental disorder, consent must be obtained from the LAR.

Any recommendation of vitamins, minerals, or food supplements must be based on a reasonable expectation that they will result in a favorable patient outcome. Certain modifications were also made to a practitioner's responsibilities in prescribing medications for weight reduction or control.

The new standards also clarify that a willful or negligent breach of confidentiality between a practitioner and a patient is subject to sanction. However, a breach that is required or permitted by applicable law or that is beyond the control of the practitioner is not considered negligent or willful.

The practitioner generally cannot terminate the relationship with a patient or make his or her services unavailable without providing documented notice to the patient that gives the patient a "reasonable time" to obtain the services of another practitioner. …

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