The principle of veracity, a term often used in the medical profession, refers to the ethics of telling the truth and is one guide of the conduct of medical practitioners. While this principle is not a law, violation of ethical principles, including veracity, will result in a loss of credibility and respect with other professionals and patients alike. Because medical personnel hold a position of trust in the community, they are held to high standards which promote accountability and overall professionalism.
Because of the information involved, and the personal nature of the medical field, ethical principles are an integral part of the medical profession. Medical personnel are exposed to patient vulnerability and life and death issues on a daily basis. In addition to veracity, these ethical principles include autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, justice and fidelity. The delicate relationship between these principles means that the needs of the patient must be prioritized when determining which principle should be honored first.
Medical personnel need to communicate clearly to the best of their abilities and prevent misunderstandings whenever possible. The medical professional must honestly represent the client's perspective and wishes. Extensive documentation enhances the credibility of medical personnel as it relates to the principles of veracity.
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The first application of the principle of veracity relates to informed consent and the autonomy of the patient to make decisions based on all available information. Patients need to know the truth about their medical situation and their options. However, some patients or their families may not want the full truth disclosed to them. An example may be if a patient is suspected to be seriously ill, but is in the office for a visit on December 17. Due to the proximity of the Christmas holiday, medical personnel may simply request a follow-up visit immediately after Christmas, instead of relating all the ramifications of the illness at the initial appointment. Family dynamics are an additional consideration as well.
Veracity in conjunction with professional ethics relates to integrity in overall standards such as billing, documentation, certification, health standards, overall compliance and peer relationships. These do not address the medical professional's personal interaction with the patient but rather address general behavior in areas which impact the patient indirectly.
Veracity can be violated in several ways. Omission means that critical relevant facts are intentionally left out when disclosing the patient's medical information. Commission means that medical personnel intentionally tell the patient, or her family, a lie. A third, more subtle way to violate the principle of veracity is to cloak the truth in so much medical jargon that the patient or her family will be unable to understand it.