Pandemics and Beyond: Considerations When Personal Risk and Professional Obligations Converge

Daniel J. Benedetti, Mithya Lewis-Newby, Joan S. Roberts, and Douglas S. Diekema




With each novel infectious disease outbreak, there is scholarly attention to healthcare providers’ obligation to assume personal risk while they care for infected patients. While most agree that healthcare providers have a duty to assume some degree of risk, the extent of this obligation remains uncertain. Furthermore, these analyses rarely examine healthcare institutions’ obligations during these outbreaks. As a result, there is little practical guidance for healthcare institutions that are forced to weigh whether or when to exclude healthcare providers from providing care or allow them to opt out from providing care to protect themselves. This article uses the COVID-19 pandemic to examine the concept of risk and the professional duties of both healthcare providers and healthcare institutions, and proposes a framework that can be used to make concrete institutional policy choices. This framework should be a useful tool for any hospital, clinic, or health agency that must make these choices during the current pandemic and beyond.




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