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Medico Legal Challenges: How can we Protect Patients and Encourage Medical Advancement?

24 Jan 2017, by Informa

We are delighted to have Assoc Prof Bernadette Richards, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide to present an address at the 2017 Medico Legal Congress. At Insights we’ve interviewed Prof Bernadette prior to the event.

You are the current President of the Australasian Association of Bioethics and Health Law (AABHL) and your research projects at this time include a major grant project considering innovative surgery, access to innovative treatment, issues around organ donation and medical decision-making through advance  care directives.

Can you describe some of the legal challenges and barriers to medical advancement with some of these projects?

richards-bernadette-4-2The most complex challenge that the law (or perhaps better to say, the law-makers) face is an appropriate balancing of individual rights against broader public policy considerations. Every patient is unique and has specific rights, interests, needs and wishes and in many situations they do not fit within the acknowledged/accepted regulatory framework. With regards to the legal challenges and barriers to medical advancement there is the potential clash of safety and rights – the law must protect the individual as well as society, there is significant public interest in medical advancement but the safety of the individual must not be overlooked in furthering knowledge and skills.

You are going to present an address based around Regulating Innovation: How can we Protect Patients and Encourage Medical Advancement? Without giving too much away about your upcoming presentation, are you able to share your thoughts on striking the balance between patient protection whilst encouraging medical advancement?

This issue is in fact at the heart of my discussion. The individual patient must be made aware that new is not always better, that there is a potential risk involved in all new treatment and that potential for success does not always equate with actual success. On the other hand, medical treatment must move forward – we can now cure conditions that were previously fatal and it is only through the participation of willing patients that this has been possible. This issue is further complicated where patients themselves assert a right to unproven treatments, they only see hope where there is potential harm and somehow an appropriate balance must be struck.

You are also joining a panel discussion at the congress asking the question Is AHPRA Working? Are you able to share some of your initial thoughts on this question in a broad context to consider national regulation?

To be honest I haven’t engaged too much with this as yet but I think I will consider the nature of AHPRA interventions/ regulatory activities and consider whether these interventions are appropriate. I have pondered the meaning of professionalism and would like to explore this.

Are there any presentations from the 26th Annual Medico Legal Congress that you are particularly looking forward to?

I think the whole program looks very interesting but one title in particular jagged my interest – ‘Health in the age of the internet of things’ – and interesting topic and a challenge that we are all facing on a daily basis.

We were fortunate to have had Associate Professor Bernadette Richards, University of Adelaide & Associate Professor Greg Crawford, Palliative Care SA deliver a presentation on ‘Hearing the Voices of the Vulnerable in End-of-Life Care Planning’ at our Advance Care Planning conference in May 2016. Enjoy a copy of this power point presentation as a preview to the issues around medical decision-making through advance care directives.



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