Future Ethical Issues that will Affect Physical Therapists


Ethical issues concern almost every profession on the planet. Physical therapy is one of the jobs that are not free from codes of conducts. Therapists should carry out their duties in line with policies and regulations that require them to work in a manner acceptable and desirable to the society at large. Morality binds this job, and the professionals in it must conduct themselves in certain way. However, that factor does not mean that physical therapists contend with some issues in their conducts. As such, this paper examines some ethical problems affecting physical therapists with a special focus on the future ones. The first section of this articles begins with other people’s opinions on this matter while the last part is an overview of my views on it.

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Identification of Ethical Issues

Triezenberg points out that physical therapy practice already faces some ethical issues and will face others in the future. The currents problems revolve around the rights and welfare of patients, professional duties, economic considerations, and the business relationships between physical therapy and other professions. According to his study, most of the existing ethical issues will remain in the future. In short, the current misconducts and the coming ones are just the same.

If therapists can deal with the existing ethical shortcomings, there will be no future matters of contention in this field. With the help of the Delphi Instrument, Triezenberg identified a range of issues that compromise the ethical soundness of physical therapy. He categorized them into three groups as follows.

The Future Issues

Triezenberg revealed several ethical matters that affect physical therapy. They are likely to prevail in the future if not handled now. He believed that there will be a problem with the determination of the standard training level, utilization, and monitoring of supportive professionals other than therapists who also contribute to delivering similar treatments. Unless rectified, there will be cases of overutilization of therapy services, maintenance of factual information in advertisements, and adherence to the ethical requirements for the inclusion of human in medical and clinical studies.

He forecasted future setbacks in the identification of informed consent factors, adherence to clinical competence guidelines, prevention of sexual abuse with the sick, and justification of fees charged for physical therapy services. According to Triezenberg, there will be little measures for the protection of the patients’ confidentiality rights by the physical therapists, personnel under their supervisions or students of physical therapy. While there is an upheaval in the endorsement of products and equipment in which therapist have financial interests.

Physical therapists are also likely to take part in businesses that exploit patients, as well as eliminate billing frauds for treatment services. In addition, there will be ethical problems related to the responsibilities of physical therapists to deliver adequate treatment services to all clients in line with their needs for care. That is because, most therapists will be interested in the patients’ social or personal status.

In his research, Triezenberg identified a set of ethical issues that exist in physical therapy. He echoed that they would recur in the future. They included the reluctance in physical therapists’ response to the environmental factor that cause pollution and health dangers related to particular modalities of treatment. Discriminations in job opportunities with the private sectors and failures of therapists to report misconducts in their colleagues will also resurface. There will be no adequate measures for addressing the encroachment of other disciplines associated with physical therapy practice.

Triezenberg could not see how the future physical therapists will limit their personal affairs in the work areas. Furthermore, he suspected that there will be cases of some of them using therapy techniques without intensive research in verifying the level of their effectiveness. If they prevail, these issues will affect the welfare and rights of patients in more than one level.

Constrained Therapy Practice

In a research to study the ethical guidelines for placement of discharge from a center of acute setting, Nalette observed that constrained is a commonplace in physical therapy. However, it limits the primary moral responsibilities of physical therapists, which involves helping sick people recover. Under such cases, ethical practice becomes hard and demands particular moral characters of the practitioners.

Constrained clinical practice triggers ethical dilemmas for physical therapists, bringing them at crossroads with their duties. If physical therapists become responsive to the needs of the patients their responsibilities shifts towards the professional requirements of helping the sick get well again. Practitioners are moral agents, whose job guidelines involve meeting the needs of the clients. As such, there is the need for an alternative position of ethical justification if they are to act in a different manner.

In physical therapy, constrained practice arises when clinicians understand the needs of their clients but decide to provide few services. The profession defines the process for identifying the legitimate health needs of the patients. In order to meet them, clinicians need expertise, moral courage, financial support, regulations, laws and cultural ties of their place of work. Often, these factors compel physical therapists to abandon their ethical responsibilities because they cause constrained.

As an example, a dilemma may arise when a physical therapist identifies several needs in a patient, but the person fails to reimburse for all the services or decides to pay for half the services. In such a situation, the therapist may provide fewer services than required, but that action is unethical. Nalette believes that there standard codes of conduct that physical therapists should observe, but constrained cases make that difficult for them. In fact, if there no quick fix, these conditions will recur in the future.

Ethical Dilemmas in Therapy

Barnitt believes that there is no enough knowledge about the ethical constraints physical and occupational therapists face at work. There is only adequate coverage on the dilemmas that medical experts and nurses encounter. The puzzles in physical therapy revolve around the effectiveness of services they deliver, with special attention on the conflicts between their professional judgements and clients’ wishes. Unless those dilemmas end, they will feature in the years to come.

Ethical Issues and Decision Making

The process of making decision by clinicians when facing ethical decisions involves three factors. Finch et al. point out they include collecting the necessary information, exploring alternative courses of action, and implementing the best action that resolves the dilemma at hand. Usually, the physical therapists identify different situations that require ethical decision, but they ignore ethical approaches or principles when solving it.

Physical therapists find it easy to consult their colleagues when matters of ethical decision-making arise. However, they do not frequent professional associations or authority bodies for consultations on behavioral expectations or legal information on the same. Similarly, they do not read ethics literature when looking for solutions. According to these researchers, clinicians who resolve ethical issues on regular occasion have perfect understanding of their job ethos.

They also value the autonomy of the patient, show little reactions to the matters that confront them, explore various alternative courses of action, and consider using the best method of resolving the problems at hand. Following these observations, Finch and his team made a few predictions on the future physical therapy issues. First, physical therapist that already know how to handle ethical cases will continue in that manner in the years to come.

Second, if the future group of therapists that follow their approach will also learn how to evade and solve ethical dilemmas. However, the current factors that bar practitioners from abiding by the professional ethos will prevail. As such, the same ethical issues will recur in the future.

Ethics and Technology

Technology is commonplace in delivering physical therapy services. However, it can lead to various dangers if there is no control in its use and application in treatment of patients. Greenfield et al. argued that physical therapists understand the need for using assistive technology in therapy, but may seek assistance elsewhere. For example, they can consult agencies or fellow professionals to assist them in handling the sick.

Many national firms and governments intervene in matters related to the access, denial and utility of technology in physical therapy. However, not all assistive technologies suit patient needs. Those studies should involve issues related to social and ethical justice. For example, physical therapists should investigate the life experiences of clients who used these technologies in their past treatments. An error made by a clinician using any machine in treating a patient. In such a situation, he or she may blame it for being faulty in efforts to cover up the mistake, and that is not ethical.

The Verdicts

My feeling is that most of the future ethical issues that physical therapists may encounter are already existing. However, more problems may arise in the years to come. In his study, Triezenberg revealed that a significant percentage of the current ethical drawbacks are likely to resurface in the future. According to that logic, there will be very few new ethical issues affecting physical therapists.

This argument is correct, but also open to challenges on the following accounts. First, the natures of problems that clinicians face on their daily errands vary from time to time. The long-term errors persist while the short-term ones do not resurface. Similarly, there are other issues that are personal. For example, corrupt therapists are likely to quit that vice if the management of their places of work changes if the law catches up with them.

Second, new types of ethical issues may evolve due to the fact that change is mandatory. For example, sexually-abusive practitioners may have to quit that act if the health care management relocates them to places where they only have to deal with patients of same sex. Some of them may only prefer to exploit vulnerable clients. While they go on with that practice unnoticed, it stops when the patient seeks discharge from the hospital.

In general, the current ethical shortcomings affecting physical therapists can contribute to the future ones in more than one way. The long-term ones can recur while the physical therapists may go on with their wrongdoings if the relevant authorities do not punish them for their mistakes. Therefore, the national bodies and government agencies stop their recurrence by handling the existing cases.

The physical therapists will also face new issues in making ethical decisions. With the increasing advancements in technology, new machines could compete with the physical therapists. In such a situations the clinicians may cause dangers to the sick by using many machines on them. Some of them could also lack the knowledge required to operate the new machines.

With the ongoing economic constraints, one would imagine that the situations could get worse in the days to come. If the situations worsen, the charges for physical therapy services will hike. Physical therapists will resort to exploiting patients by overcharging them. In addition, they will fail to purchase adequate facilities for attending to those in need of treatment.

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