Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practice Board of Australia
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Practice Board of Australia
 

Code of conduct

About the National Boards and AHPRA

The 14 National Boards regulating registered health practitioners in Australia are responsible for registering practitioners and students (except for in psychology, which has provisional psychologists), setting the standards that practitioners must meet, and managing complaints and concerns (notifications) about the health, conduct or performance of practitioners.


The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) works in partnership with the National Boards to implement the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme, under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, as in force in each state and territory (the National Law). 


The core role of the National Boards and AHPRA is to protect the public.

Download a PDF of the Code of conduct

Code of conduct
(186 KB,PDF)

 

About this code

This code has been developed by most National Boards under section 39 of the National Law.

This code seeks to assist and support registered health practitioners to deliver effective regulated health services within an ethical framework. Practitioners have a duty to make the care of patients or clients their first concern and to practise safely and effectively. Maintaining a high level of professional competence and conduct is essential for good care.

The code contains important standards for practitioner behaviour in relation to:

  • providing good care, including shared decision-making
  • working with patients or clients
  • working with other practitioners
  • working within the healthcare system
  • minimising risk
  • maintaining professional performance
  • professional behaviour and ethical conduct
  • ensuring practitioner health
  • teaching, supervising and assessing, and
  • research.

Making decisions about healthcare is the shared responsibility of the practitioner and the patients or clients (or their representative).

Relationships based on openness, trust and good communication will enable practitioners to work in partnership with their patients or clients. An important part of the practitioner–patient/client relationship is effective communication, in all forms, including in person, written and electronic.

Practitioners have ethical and legal obligations to protect the privacy of people requiring and receiving care. Patients or clients have a right to expect that practitioners and their staff will hold information about them in confidence, unless information is required to be released by law or public interest considerations.

Practitioners need to obtain informed consent for the care that they provide to their patients or clients. Caring for children and young people brings additional responsibilities for practitioners.

Good practice involves genuine efforts to understand the cultural needs and contexts of different patients or clients to obtain good health outcomes. Practitioners need to be aware that some patients or clients have additional needs and modify their approach appropriately.

When adverse events occur, practitioners have a responsibility to be open and honest in communication with patients or clients to review what has occurred.

In some circumstances, the relationship between a practitioner and a patient or client may become ineffective or compromised and may need to end.

Good relationships with colleagues and other practitioners strengthen the practitioner–patient/client relationship and enhance care.

Practitioners have a responsibility to contribute to the effectiveness and efficacy of the healthcare system.

Minimising risk to patients or clients is a fundamental component of practice. Good practice involves understanding and applying the key principles of risk minimisation and management to practice.

Maintaining and developing a practitioner's knowledge, skills and professional behaviour are core aspects of good practice.

Teaching, supervising and mentoring practitioners and students is important for the development of practitioners and for the care of patients or clients. It is part of good practice to contribute to these activities, and provide support, assessment, feedback and supervision for colleagues, practitioners in training and students.

Underpinning this code is the assumption that practitioners will exercise their professional judgement to deliver the best possible outcome for their patients.

1.1 Use of the code

This code seeks to assist and support practitioners to deliver appropriate, effective services within an ethical framework. Practitioners have a professional responsibility to be familiar with this code and to apply the guidance it contains.

This code will be used:

  • to support individual practitioners in the challenging task of providing good healthcare and fulfilling their professional roles and to provide a framework to guide professional judgement
  • to assist National Boards in their role of protecting the public by setting and maintaining standards of good practice – Boards will use this code when evaluating the professional conduct of practitioners. If professional conduct varies significantly from this code, practitioners should be prepared to explain and justify their decisions and actions and serious or repeated failure to meet this code may have consequences for registration
  • as an additional resource for a range of uses that contribute to enhancing the culture of professionalism in the Australian health system: for example, in practitioner education; orientation, induction and supervision of students; and by administrators and policy makers in hospitals, health services and other institutions, and
  • as a guide to the public and consumers of health services about what good practice is and the standard of behaviour they should expect from health practitioners.

Practitioners must always act in accordance with the law. The code is not a substitute for the provisions of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, as in force in each state and territory (the National Law), other relevant legislation and case law. If there is any conflict between the code and the law, the law takes precedence. Practitioners need to be aware of and comply with, the standards, guidelines and policies of their National Board.

The code does not address in detail the range of general legal obligations that apply to practitioners, such as those under privacy, child protection and antidiscrimination legislation; responsibilities to employees and other individuals present at a practice under workplace health and safety legislation; and vicarious liability for employees under the general law. Practitioners should ensure that they are aware of their legal obligations and act in accordance with them.

This code is not an exhaustive study of professional ethics or an ethics guide. It does not address the standards of practice within individual health professions or disciplines. These standards of practice are generally found in documents issued by the relevant National Boards and/or professional bodies.

While good healthcare respects the rights of patients or clients, this code is not a charter of rights (an example of a charter is the Australian charter of healthcare rights issued by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care.

The focus of this code is on good practice and professional behaviour. It is not intended as a mechanism to address disputes between professional colleagues, e.g. in relation to termination of business relationships and disputes over patients or clients.

1.2 Professional values and qualities

While individual practitioners have their own personal beliefs and values, there are certain professional values on which all practitioners are expected to base their practice. These professional values apply to the practitioner’s conduct regardless of the setting, including in person and electronically, e.g. social media, e-health etc.

Practitioners have a duty to make the care of patients or clients their first concern and to practise safely and effectively. They must be ethical and trustworthy. Patients or clients trust practitioners because they believe that, in addition to being competent, practitioners will not take advantage of them and will display qualities such as integrity, truthfulness, dependability and compassion. Patients or clients also rely on practitioners to protect their confidentiality.

Practitioners have a responsibility to protect and promote the health of individuals and the community.

Good practice is centred on patients or clients. It involves practitioners understanding that each patient or client is unique and working in partnership with patients or clients, adapting what they do to address the needs and reasonable expectations of each person. This includes cultural awareness: being aware of their own culture and beliefs and respectful of the beliefs and cultures of others, and recognising that these cultural differences may impact on the practitioner–patient/client relationship and on the delivery of services. Good practice also includes being aware that differences such as gender, sexuality, age, belief systems and other anti-discrimination grounds in relevant legislation may influence care needs, and avoiding discrimination on the basis of these differences.

Effective communication in all forms underpins every aspect of good practice.

Professionalism embodies all the qualities described here and includes self-awareness and self-reflection. Practitioners are expected to reflect regularly on whether they are practising effectively, on what is happening in their relationships with patients or clients and colleagues, and on their own health and wellbeing. They have a duty to keep their skills and knowledge up to date, refine and develop their clinical judgement as they gain experience, and contribute to their profession.

Practitioners have a responsibility to recognise and work within the limits of their competence and scope of practice. Scopes of practice vary according to different roles; for example, practitioners, researchers and managers will all have quite different competence and scopes of practice. To illustrate, in relation to working within their scope of practice, practitioners may need to consider whether they have the appropriate qualifications and experience to provide advice on over the counter and scheduled medicines, herbal remedies, vitamin supplements, etc.

Practitioners should be committed to safety and quality in healthcare (see the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care and references section at the end of this code).

1.3 Australia and Australian healthcare

Australia is culturally and linguistically diverse. We inhabit a land that, for many ages, was held and cared for by Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians, whose history and culture have uniquely shaped our nation. Our society is further enriched by the contribution of people from many nations who have made Australia their home.

Practitioners in Australia reflect the cultural diversity of our society and this diversity strengthens the health professions.

There are many ways to practise a health profession in Australia. Practitioners have critical roles in caring for people who are unwell, assisting people to recover and seeking to keep people well. This code focuses on these roles. For practitioners with roles that involve little or no contact with patients or clients, not all of this code may be relevant, but the underpinning principles will still apply.

1.4 Substitute decision-makers

There are several conditions or situations in which patients or clients may have limited competence or capacity to make independent decisions about their healthcare; for example, people with dementia or acute conditions that temporarily affect competence and children or young people, depending on their age and capacity (see Section 3.5 Informed consent).

In this code, reference to the terms ‘patients or clients’ also includes substitute decision-makers for patients or clients who do not have the capacity to make their own decisions. These can be parents or a legally appointed decision-maker. If in doubt, seek advice from the relevant guardianship authority.

2.1 Introduction

Care of the patient or client is the primary concern for health professionals in clinical practice. Providing good care includes:

  1. assessing the patient or client, taking into account their history, views and an appropriate physical examination where relevant; the history includes relevant psychological, social and cultural aspects
  2. formulating and implementing a suitable management plan (including providing treatment and advice and, where relevant, arranging investigations and liaising with other treating practitioners)
  3. facilitating coordination and continuity of care
  4. recognising the limits to a practitioner’s own skills and competence and referring a patient or client to another practitioner when this is in the best interests of the patients or clients, and
  5. recognising and respecting the rights of patients or clients to make their own decisions.

2.2 Good care

Maintaining a high level of professional competence and conduct is essential for good care. Good practice involves:

  1. recognising and working within the limits of a practitioner’s competence and scope of practice, which may change over time
  2. ensuring that practitioners maintain adequate knowledge and skills to provide safe and effective care
  3. when moving into a new area of practice, ensuring that a practitioner has undertaken sufficient training and/or qualifications to achieve competency in that area
  4. practising patient/client-centred care, including encouraging patients or clients to take interest in, and responsibility for the management of their health and supporting them in this
  5. maintaining adequate records (see Section 8.4 Health records)
  6. considering the balance of benefit and harm in all clinical management decisions
  7. communicating effectively with patients or clients (see Section 3.3 Effective communication)
  8. providing treatment options based on the best available information and not influenced by financial gain or incentives
  9. taking steps to alleviate the symptoms and distress of patients or clients, whether or not a cure is possible
  10. supporting the right of the patient or client to seek a second opinion
  11. consulting and taking advice from colleagues when appropriate
  12. making responsible and effective use of the resources available to practitioners (see Section 5.2 Wise use of healthcare resources)
  13. ensuring that the personal views of a practitioner do not affect the care of a patient or client adversely
  14. practising in accordance with the current and accepted evidence base of the health profession, including clinical outcomes
  15. evaluating practice and the decisions and actions in providing good care, and
  16. facilitating the quality use of therapeutic products based on the best available evidence and the patient or client’s needs.

2.3 Shared decision-making

Making decisions about healthcare is the shared responsibility of the treating practitioner and the patient or client who may wish to involve their family, carer/s and/or others. Practitioners have the responsibility to create and foster conditions for this to occur. (Also see Section 1.4 Substitute decision-makers.)

2.4 Decisions about access to care

Practitioner decisions about access to care need to be free from bias and discrimination. Good practice involves:

  1. treating patients or clients with respect at all times
  2. not prejudicing the care of a patient or client because a practitioner believes that the behaviour of the patient or client has contributed to their condition
  3. upholding the duty to the patient or client and not discriminating on grounds irrelevant to healthcare, including race, religion, sex, disability or other grounds specified in anti-discrimination legislation
  4. investigating and treating patients or clients on the basis of clinical need and the effectiveness of the proposed investigations or treatment, and not providing unnecessary services or encouraging the indiscriminate or unnecessary use of health services
  5. keeping practitioners and their staff safe when caring for patients or clients; while action should be taken to protect practitioners and their staff if a patient or client poses a risk to health or safety, the patient or client should not be denied care, if reasonable steps can be taken to keep practitioners and their staff safe
  6. being aware of a practitioner’s right to not provide or participate directly in treatments to which the practitioner objects conscientiously, informing patients or clients and, if relevant, colleagues of the objection, and not using that objection to impede access to treatments that are legal, and
  7. not allowing moral or religious views to deny patients or clients access to healthcare, recognising that practitioners are free to decline to provide or participate in that care personally.

2.5 Treatment in emergencies

Treating patients or clients in emergencies requires practitioners to consider a range of issues, in addition to the provision of best care. Good practice involves offering assistance in an emergency that takes account of the practitioner’s own safety, skills, the availability of other options and the impact on any other patients or clients under the practitioner’s care, and continuing to provide that assistance until services are no longer required.

3.1 Introduction

Relationships based on respect, trust and good communication will enable practitioners to work in partnership with patients or clients.

3.2 Partnership

A good partnership between a practitioner and the person they are caring for requires high standards of personal conduct. This involves:

  1. being courteous, respectful, compassionate and honest
  2. treating each patient or client as an individual
  3. protecting the privacy and right to confidentiality of patients or clients, unless release of information is required by law or by public interest considerations
  4. encouraging and supporting patients or clients and, when relevant, their carer/s or family in caring for themselves and managing their health
  5. encouraging and supporting patients or clients to be well-informed about their health and assisting patients or clients to make informed decisions about their healthcare activities and treatments by providing information and advice to the best of a practitioner’s ability and according to the stated needs of patients or clients
  6. respecting the right of the patient or client to choose whether or not they participate in any treatment or accept advice, and
  7. recognising that there is a power imbalance in the practitioner–patient/client relationship and not exploiting patients or clients physically, emotionally, sexually or financially (also see Section 8.2 Professional boundaries and Section 8.12 Financial and commercial dealings).

3.3 Effective communication

An important part of the practitioner–patient/client relationship is effective communication. This involves:

  1. listening to patients or clients, asking for and respecting their views about their health and responding to their concerns and preferences
  2. awareness of health literacy issues and taking health literacy into account and/or adjusting their communication in response
  3. encouraging patients or clients to tell a practitioner about their condition and how they are managing it, including any other health advice they have received, any prescription or other medications they have been prescribed and any other therapies they are using
  4. informing patients or clients of the nature of and need for all aspects of their clinical care, including examination and investigations, and giving them adequate opportunity to question or refuse intervention and treatment
  5. discussing with patients or clients their condition and the available healthcare options, including their nature, purpose, possible positive and adverse consequences, limitations and reasonable alternatives wherever they exist
  6. endeavouring to confirm that a patient or client understands what a practitioner has said
  7. ensuring that patients or clients are informed of the material risks associated with any part of a proposed management plan
  8. responding to questions from patients or clients and keeping them informed about their clinical progress
  9. making sure, whenever practical, that arrangements are made to meet the specific language, cultural and communication needs of patients or clients and being aware of how these needs affect understanding
  10. becoming familiar with, and using whenever necessary, qualified language interpreters or cultural interpreters to help meet the communication needs of patients or clients, including those who require assistance because of their English skills, or because they are speech or hearing impaired (wherever possible, practitioners should use trained translators and interpreters rather than family members or other staff)
  11. when using interpreters:
    • taking reasonable steps to ensure that the interpreter is competent to work as an interpreter in the relevant context
    • taking reasonable steps to ensure that the interpreter is not in a relationship with the patient or client that may impair the interpreter’s judgement
    • taking reasonable steps to ensure that the interpreter will keep confidential the existence and content of the service provided to the patient or client
    • taking reasonable steps to ensure that the interpreter is aware of any other relevant provisions of this code
    • obtaining informed consent from the patient or client to use the selected interpreter
  12. using social media, e-health and personally controlled electronic health records appropriately, consistent with this code, and
  13. communicating appropriately with and providing relevant information to other stakeholders, including other treating practitioners, in accordance with applicable privacy requirements.

3.4 Confidentiality and privacy

Practitioners have ethical and legal obligations to protect the privacy of people requiring and receiving care. Patients or clients have right to expect that practitioners and their staff will hold information about them in confidence, unless release of information is required by law or public interest considerations. Good practice involves:

  1. treating information about patients or clients as confidential and applying appropriate security to electronic and hard copy information
  2. seeking consent from patients or clients before disclosing information, where practicable
  3. being aware of the requirements of the privacy and/or health records legislation that operates in relevant states and territories and applying these requirements to information held in all formats, including electronic information
  4. sharing information appropriately about patients or clients for their healthcare while remaining consistent with privacy legislation and professional guidelines about confidentiality
  5. where relevant, being aware that there are complex issues relating to genetic information and seeking appropriate advice about disclosure of such information
  6. providing appropriate surroundings to enable private and confidential consultations and discussions to take place
  7. ensuring that all staff are aware of the need to respect the confidentiality and privacy of patients or clients and refrain from discussing patients or clients in a non-professional context
  8. complying with relevant legislation, policies and procedures relating to consent
  9. using consent processes, including formal documentation if required, for the release and exchange of health and medical information, and
  10. ensuring that use of social media and e-health is consistent with the practitioner’s ethical and legal obligations to protect privacy.

3.5 Informed consent

Informed consent is a person’s voluntary decision about healthcare that is made with knowledge and understanding of the benefits and risks involved. A useful guide to the information that practitioners need to give to patients is available in the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) publication General guidelines for medical practitioners in providing information to patients. The NHMRC guidelines cover the information that practitioners should provide about their proposed management or approach, including the need to provide more information where the risk of harm is greater and likely to be more serious and advice about how to present information.

Good practice involves:

  1. providing information to patients or clients in a way they can understand before asking for their consent
  2. obtaining informed consent or other valid authority before undertaking any examination or investigation, providing treatment (this may not be possible in an emergency) or involving patients or clients in teaching or research, including providing information on material risks
  3. when referring a patient or client for investigation or treatment, advising the patient or client that there may be additional costs, which they may wish to clarify before proceeding
  4. when working with a patient or client whose capacity to give consent is or may be impaired or limited, obtaining the consent of people with legal authority to act on behalf of the patient or client and attempting to obtain the consent of the patient or client as far as practically possible
  5. being mindful of additional informed consent requirements when supplying or prescribing products not approved or made in Australia, and
  6. documenting consent appropriately, including considering the need for written consent for procedures which may result in serious injury or death.

Fees and financial consent

  1. Patients or clients should be made aware of all the fees and charges involved in a course of treatment, preferably before the health service is provided.
  2. Discussion about fees should be in a manner appropriate to the professional relationship and should include discussion about the cost of all required services and general agreement about the level of treatment to be provided.

3.6 Children and young people

Caring for children and young people brings additional responsibilities for practitioners. Mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect is legislated in all states and territories in Australia. Practitioners have a responsibility to be aware of the mandatory reporting requirements in their state or territory.

Good practice involves:

  1. placing the interests and wellbeing of the child or young person first
  2. considering the young person’s capacity for decision-making and consent; in general, where a practitioner judges that a person is of a sufficient age and of sufficient mental and emotional capacity to give consent to a service, then that person should be able to request and provide informed consent to receive services without the consent of a parent, guardian or other legal representative
  3. ensuring that, when communicating with a child or young person, practitioners:
    • treat the child or young person with respect and listen to their views
    • encourage questions and answer those questions to the best of the practitioner’s ability
    • provide information in a way the child or young person can understand
    • recognise the role of parents or guardians and, when appropriate, encourage the child or young person to involve their parents or guardians in decisions about care, and
    • remain alert to children and young people who may be at risk and notify appropriate child protection authorities as required by law. This may include where a parent or guardian is refusing treatment for their child or young person and this decision may not be in the best interests of the child or young person.

3.7 Culturally safe and sensitive practice

Good practice involves an awareness of the cultural needs and contexts of all patients and clients, to obtain good health outcomes. This includes:

  1. having knowledge of, respect for and sensitivity towards the cultural needs and background of the community practitioners serve, including those of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. For example, better and safer outcomes may be achieved for some patients if they are able to be consulted or treated by a practitioner of the same gender
  2. acknowledging the social, economic, cultural, historic and behavioural factors influencing health, both at individual and population levels
  3. understanding that a practitioner’s own culture and beliefs influence their interactions with patients or clients, and
  4. adapting practice to improve engagement with patients or clients and healthcare outcomes.

3.8 Patients who may have additional needs

Some patients or clients (including those with impaired decision-making capacity) have additional needs. Good practice in managing the care of these patients or clients includes:

  1. paying particular attention to communication
  2. being aware that increased advocacy may be necessary to ensure just access to healthcare
  3. recognising that there may be a range of people involved in their care such as carers, family members or a guardian, and involving them when appropriate, and
  4. being aware that these patients or clients may be at greater risk.

3.9 Relatives, carers and partners

Good practice involves:

  1. being considerate to relatives, carers, partners and others close to the patient or client and respectful of their role in the care of the patient or client, and
  2. with appropriate consent, being responsive in providing information.

3.10 Adverse events and open disclosure

When adverse events occur, practitioners have a responsibility to be open and honest in communication with a patient or client to review what has occurred and to report appropriately (also see ‘open disclosure’ at Section 6.2(a)). When something goes wrong, good practice involves:

  1. recognising what has happened
  2. acting immediately to rectify the problem, if possible, including seeking any necessary help and advice
  3. explaining to the patient or client as promptly and fully as possible what has happened and the anticipated short-term and long-term consequences
  4. listening to the patient or client
  5. acknowledging any patient or client distress and providing appropriate support
  6. complying with any relevant policies, procedures and reporting requirements, subject to advice from a professional indemnity insurer
  7. reviewing adverse events and implementing changes to reduce the risk of recurrence (see Section 6 Minimising risk)
  8. reporting adverse events to the relevant authority as required (see Section 6 Minimising risk), and
  9. ensuring patients or clients have access to information about the processes for making a complaint (for example, through the relevant National Board or healthcare complaints commission).

3.11 When a complaint is made

Patients or clients have a right to complain about their care. When a complaint is made or a formal notification is received by a Board, good practice involves:

  1. acknowledging the person’s right to complain
  2. working with the person to resolve the issue where possible
  3. providing a prompt, open and constructive response including an explanation and, if appropriate, an apology
  4. ensuring the complaint or notification does not affect the person’s care adversely; in some cases, it may be advisable to refer the person to another practitioner, and
  5. complying with relevant complaints legislation, policies and procedures.

3.12 End-of-life care

Practitioners have a vital role in assisting the community to deal with the reality of death and its consequences. In caring for patients or clients towards the end of their life, good practice involves:

  1. taking steps to manage a person’s symptoms and concerns in a manner consistent with their values and wishes
  2. when relevant, providing or arranging appropriate palliative care
  3. understanding the limits of services in prolonging life and recognising when efforts to prolong life may not benefit the person
  4. for those practitioners involved in care that may prolong life, understanding that practitioners do not have a duty to try to prolong life at all cost but do have a duty to know when not to initiate and when to cease attempts at prolonging life, while ensuring that patients or clients receive appropriate relief from distress
  5. accepting that patients or clients have the right to refuse treatment or to request the withdrawal of treatment already started
  6. respecting different cultural practices related to death and dying
  7. striving to communicate effectively with patients or clients and their families so they are able to understand the outcomes that can and cannot be achieved
  8. when relevant, facilitating advanced care planning
  9. taking reasonable steps to ensure that support is provided to patients or clients and their families, even when it is not possible to deliver the outcome they desire
  10. communicating with patients or clients and their families about bad news or unexpected outcomes in the most appropriate way and providing support for them while they deal with this information, and
  11. when a patient or client dies, being willing to explain, to the best of the practitioner’s knowledge, the circumstances of the death to appropriate members of their family and carers, unless it is known the patient or client would have objected.

3.13 Ending a professional relationship

In some circumstances, the relationship between a practitioner and a patient or client may become ineffective or compromised and may need to end. Good practice involves ensuring that the patient or client is informed adequately of the decision and facilitating arrangements for the continuing care of the patient or client, including passing on relevant clinical information.

3.14 Understanding boundaries

Good practice includes recognising the potential conflicts, risks and complexities of providing care to those in a close relationship, for example close friends, work colleagues and family members and that this can be inappropriate because of the lack of objectivity, possible discontinuity of care and risks to the practitioner or patient. When a practitioner chooses to provide care to those in a close relationship, good practice requires that:

  • adequate records are kept
  • confidentiality is maintained
  • adequate assessment occurs
  • appropriate consent is obtained to the circumstances which is acknowledged by both the practitioner and patient or client
  • the personal relationship does not in any way impair clinical judgement, and
  • at all times an option to discontinue care is maintained. (Also see Section 8.2 Professional boundaries.)

3.15 Working with multiple clients

Where practitioners are considering treating multiple patients or clients simultaneously in class or group work, or more than one individual patient or client at the same time, practitioners should consider whether this mode of treatment is appropriate to the patients or clients involved, including whether it could compromise the quality of care (see also Section 3.4 Confidentiality and privacy and Section 3.5 Informed consent).

3.16 Closing or relocating a practice

When closing or relocating a practice, or when an employed practitioner moves between practices, good practice involves:

  1. giving advance notice where possible and as early as possible, and
  2. facilitating arrangements for the continuing care of all current patients, which may include the transfer or appropriate management of all patient records while following the law governing privacy and health records in the jurisdiction.

4.1 Introduction

Good relationships with colleagues and other practitioners strengthen the practitioner–patient/client relationship and enhance patient care.

4.2 Respect for colleagues and other practitioners

Good care is enhanced when there is mutual respect and clear communication between all health professionals involved in the care of the patient or client. Good practice involves:

  1. communicating clearly, effectively, respectfully and promptly with colleagues and other practitioners caring for the patient or client
  2. acknowledging and respecting the contribution of all practitioners involved in the care of the patient or client, and
  3. behaving professionally and courteously to colleagues and other practitioners at all times, including when using social media.

4.3 Delegation, referral and handover

Delegation involves one practitioner asking another person or member of staff to provide care on behalf of the delegating practitioner while that practitioner retains overall responsibility for the care of the patient or client.

Referral involves one practitioner sending a patient or client to obtain an opinion or treatment from another practitioner. Referral usually involves the transfer (in part) of responsibility for the care of the patient or client, usually for a defined time and a particular purpose, such as care that is outside the referring practitioner’s expertise or scope of practice.

Handover is the process of transferring all responsibility to another practitioner.

Good practice involves:

  1. taking reasonable steps to ensure that any person to whom a practitioner delegates, refers or hands over has the qualifications and/or experience and/or knowledge and/or skills to provide the care required
  2. understanding that, although a delegating practitioner will not be accountable for the decisions and actions of those to whom they delegate, the delegating practitioner remains responsible for the overall management of the patient or client and for the decision to delegate, and
  3. always communicating sufficient information about the patient or client and the treatment needed to enable the continuing care of the patient or client.

4.4 Teamwork

Many practitioners work closely with a wide range of other practitioners, with benefits for patient care.

Effective collaboration is a fundamental aspect of good practice when working in a team. The care of patients or clients is improved when there is mutual respect and clear communication as well as an understanding of the responsibilities, capacities, constraints and ethical codes of each other’s health professions. Working in a team does not alter a practitioner’s personal accountability for professional conduct and the care provided. When working in a team, good practice involves:

  1. understanding the particular role in the team and attending to the responsibilities associated with that role
  2. advocating for a clear delineation of roles and responsibilities, including that there is a recognised team leader or coordinator although care within the team may be provided by different practitioners from different health professions within different models of care
  3. communicating effectively with other team members
  4. informing patients or clients about the roles of team members
  5. acting as a positive role model for team members
  6. understanding the nature and consequences of bullying and harassment and seeking to avoid or eliminate such behaviour in the workplace, and
  7. supporting students and practitioners receiving supervision and others within the team.

4.5 Coordinating care with other practitioners

Good patient care requires coordination between all treating practitioners. Good practice involves:

  1. communicating all the relevant information in a timely way, and
  2. ensuring that it is clear to the patient or client, the family and colleagues who has ultimate responsibility for coordinating the care of the patient or client.

5.1 Introduction

Practitioners have a responsibility to contribute to the effectiveness and efficiency of the healthcare system.

5.2 Wise use of healthcare resources

It is important to use healthcare resources wisely. Good practice involves:

  1. ensuring that the services provided are appropriate for the assessed needs of the patient or client and are not excessive, unnecessary or not reasonably required
  2. upholding the right of patients or clients to gain access to the necessary level of healthcare, and, whenever possible, helping them to do so
  3. supporting the transparent and equitable allocation of healthcare resources, and
  4. understanding that the use of resources can affect the access other patients or clients have to healthcare resources.

5.3 Health advocacy

There are significant disparities in the health status of different groups in the Australian community. These disparities result from social, cultural, geographic, health-related and other factors. In particular, Indigenous Australians bear the burden of gross social, cultural and health inequity. Other groups may experience health disparities including people with intellectual or physical disabilities, those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and refugees. Good practice involves using expertise and influence to protect and advance the health and wellbeing of individual patients or clients, communities and populations.

5.4 Public health

Practitioners have a responsibility to promote the health of the community through disease prevention and control, education and, where relevant, screening. Good practice involves:

  1. understanding the principles of public health, including health education, health promotion, disease prevention and control and screening, and
  2. participating in efforts to promote the health of the community and being aware of obligations in disease prevention, including screening and reporting notifiable diseases where relevant.

6.1 Introduction

Risk is inherent in healthcare. Minimising risk to patients or clients is an important component of practice. Good practice involves understanding and applying the key principles of risk minimisation and management in practice.

  1. Risk identification
  2. Risk assessment
  3. Risk treatment
    1. Transfer
    2. Financing
    3. Avoidance
    4. Control
  4. Implementation
  5. Evaluation, which lead back to 'Risk identification'

6.2 Risk management

Good practice in relation to risk management involves:

  1. being aware of the principles of open disclosure and a non-punitive approach to incident management; a useful reference is the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care’s National Open Disclosure Standard
  2. participating in systems of quality assurance and improvement
  3. participating in systems for surveillance and monitoring of adverse events and ‘near misses’, including reporting such events to the relevant authority
  4. if a practitioner has management responsibilities, making sure that systems are in place for raising concerns about risks to patients or clients
  5. working in practice and within systems to reduce error and improve the safety of patients or clients and supporting colleagues who raise concerns about the safety of patients or clients, and
  6. taking all reasonable steps to address the issue if there is reason to think that the safety of patients or clients may be compromised.

6.3 Practitioner performance

The welfare of patients or clients may be put at risk if a practitioner is performing poorly. If there is a risk, good practice involves:

  1. complying with statutory reporting requirements, including those under the National Law
  2. recognising and taking steps to minimise the risks of fatigue, including complying with relevant state and territory occupational health and safety legislation
  3. if a practitioner knows or suspects that they have a health condition that could adversely affect judgement or performance, following the guidance in Section 9.2 Practitioner health
  4. taking steps to protect patients or clients from being placed at risk of harm posed by a colleague’s conduct, practice or ill health
  5. taking appropriate steps to assist a colleague to receive help if there are concerns about the colleague’s performance or fitness to practise, and
  6. if a practitioner is not sure what to do, seeking advice from an experienced colleague, the employer/s, practitioner health advisory services, professional indemnity insurers, the National Boards or a professional organisation.

7.1 Introduction

Maintaining and developing knowledge, skills and professional behaviour are core aspects of good practice. This requires self-reflection and participation in relevant professional development, practice improvement and performance-appraisal processes to continually develop professional capabilities. These activities must continue through a practitioner’s working life as science and technology develop and society changes.

7.2 Continuing professional development (CPD)

Development of knowledge, skills and professional behaviour must continue throughout a practitioner’s working life. Good practice involves keeping knowledge and skills up to date to ensure that practitioners continue to work within their competence and scope of practice. The National Law requires practitioners to undertake CPD. Practitioners should refer to the National Board’s registration standard and guidelines on CPD for details of these requirements.

8.1 Introduction

In professional life, practitioners must display a standard of behaviour that warrants the trust and respect of the community. This includes observing and practising the principles of ethical conduct.

The guidance contained in this section emphasises the core qualities and characteristics of good practitioners outlined in Section 1.2 Professional values and qualities.

8.2 Professional boundaries

Professional boundaries allow a practitioner and a patient/client to engage safely and effectively in a therapeutic relationship. Professional boundaries refers to the clear separation that should exist between professional conduct aimed at meeting the health needs of patients or clients and a practitioner’s own personal views, feelings and relationships which are not relevant to the therapeutic relationship.

Professional boundaries are integral to a good practitioner–patient/client relationship. They promote good care for patients or clients and protect both parties. Good practice involves:

  1. maintaining professional boundaries
  2. never using a professional position to establish or pursue a sexual, exploitative or otherwise inappropriate relationship with anybody under a practitioner’s care; this includes those close to the patient or client, such as their carer, guardian, spouse or the parent of a child patient or client
  3. recognising that sexual and other personal relationships with people who have previously been a practitioner’s patients or clients are usually inappropriate, depending on the extent of the professional relationship and the vulnerability of a previous patient or client, and
  4. avoiding the expression of personal beliefs to patients or clients in ways that exploit their vulnerability or that are likely to cause them distress.

Practitioners need to be aware of and comply with any guidelines of their National Board in relation to professional boundaries.

8.3 Reporting obligations

Practitioners have statutory responsibility under the National Law to report matters to the National Boards: please refer to the Board’s guidelines on mandatory reporting and sections 130 and 141 of the National Law. They also have professional obligations to report to the Boards and their employer/s if they have had any limitations placed on their practice. Good practice involves:

  1. being aware of these reporting obligations
  2. complying with any reporting obligations that apply to practice, and
  3. seeking advice from the Boards, professional indemnity insurer or other relevant bodies if practitioners are unsure about their obligations.

8.4 Health records

Maintaining clear and accurate health records is essential for the continuing good care of patients or clients. Practitioners should be aware that some National Boards have specific guidelines in relation to records. Good practice involves:

  1. keeping accurate, up-to-date, factual, objective and legible records that report relevant details of clinical history, clinical findings, investigations, information given to patients or clients, medication and other management in a form that can be understood by other health practitioners
  2. ensuring that records are held securely and are not subject to unauthorised access, regardless of whether they are held electronically and/or in hard copy
  3. ensuring that records show respect for patients or clients and do not include demeaning or derogatory remarks
  4. ensuring that records are sufficient to facilitate continuity of care
  5. making records at the time of events or as soon as possible afterwards
  6. recognising the right of patients or clients to access information contained in their health records and facilitating that access, and
  7. promptly facilitating the transfer of health information when requested by patients or clients.

8.5 Insurance

Practitioners have a statutory requirement to ensure that practice is appropriately covered by professional indemnity insurance (see the Board’s professional indemnity insurance registration standard).

8.6 Advertising

Advertisements for services can be useful in providing information for patients or clients. All advertisements must comply with the provisions of the National Law on the advertising of regulated health services, relevant consumer protection legislation, and state and territory fair trading Acts and, if applicable, legislation regulating the advertising of therapeutic goods.

Good practice involves complying with the National Law (explained in the Board’s guidelines on advertising of regulated health services) and relevant Commonwealth, state and territory legislation and ensuring that any promotion of therapeutic products is ethical.

8.7 Legal, insurance and other assessments

When a practitioner is contracted by a third party to provide a legal, insurance or other assessment of a person who is not their patient or client, the usual therapeutic practitioner–patient/client relationship does not exist. In this situation, good practice involves:

  1. applying the standards or professional behaviour described in this code to the assessment; in particular, being courteous, alert to the concerns of the person and ensuring the person’s consent
  2. explaining to the person the practitioner’s area of practice, role and the purpose, nature and extent of the assessment to be conducted
  3. anticipating and seeking to correct any misunderstandings that the person may have about the nature and purpose of the assessment and report
  4. providing an impartial report (see Section 8.8 Reports, certificates and giving evidence), and
  5. recognising that if an unrecognised, serious problem is discovered during the assessment, there is a duty of care to inform the patient or client or their treating practitioner.

8.8 Reports, certificates and giving evidence

The community places a great deal of trust in practitioners. Consequently, some practitioners have been given the authority to sign documents such as sickness or fitness for work certificates on the assumption that they will only sign statements that they know, or reasonably believe, to be true. Good practice involves:

  1. being honest and not misleading when writing reports and certificates and only signing documents believed to be accurate
  2. taking reasonable steps to verify the content before signing a report or certificate and not omitting relevant information deliberately
  3. if so agreed, preparing or signing documents and reports within a reasonable and justifiable timeframe, and
  4. making clear the limits of a practitioner’s knowledge and not giving opinion beyond those limits when providing evidence.

8.9 Curriculum vitae

When providing curriculum vitae, good practice involves:

  1. providing accurate, truthful and verifiable information about a practitioner’s experience and qualifications, and
  2. not misrepresenting by misstatement or omission a practitioner’s experience, qualifications or position.

Also see Section 10.3 Assessing colleagues in relation to providing references for colleagues.

8.10 Investigations

Practitioners have responsibilities and rights relating to any legitimate investigation of their practice or that of a colleague. In meeting these responsibilities, it is advisable to seek legal advice or advice from a professional indemnity insurer. Good practice involves:

  1. cooperating with any legitimate inquiry into the treatment of a patient or client and with any complaints procedure that applies to a practitioner’s work
  2. disclosing to anyone entitled to ask for it information relevant to an investigation into the conduct, performance or health of a practitioner or colleague, and
  3. assisting the coroner when an inquest or inquiry is held into the death of a patient or client by responding to the coroner’s enquiries and by offering all relevant information.

8.11 Conflicts of interest

Patients or clients rely on the independence and trustworthiness of practitioners for any advice or treatment offered. A conflict of interest in practice arises when a practitioner, entrusted with acting in the interests of a patient or client, also has financial, professional or personal interests or relationships with third parties which may affect their care of the patient or client.

Multiple interests are common. They require identification, careful consideration, appropriate disclosure and accountability. When these interests compromise, or might reasonably be perceived by an independent observer to compromise the practitioner’s primary duty to the patient or client, practitioners must recognise and resolve this conflict in the best interests of the patient or client.

Good practice involves:

  1. recognising potential conflicts of interest that may arise in relation to initiating or continuing a professional relationship with a patient or client
  2. acting in the best interests of patients or clients when making referrals and when providing or arranging treatment or care
  3. informing patients or clients when a practitioner has an interest that could affect or could be perceived to affect patient or client care
  4. recognising that pharmaceutical and other marketing may influence practitioners and being aware of ways in which practice may be influenced
  5. not asking for or accepting any inducement, gift or hospitality from companies that sell or market drugs or other products that may affect or be seen to affect the way practitioners prescribe for, treat or refer patients or clients
  6. not asking for or accepting fees for meeting sales representatives
  7. not offering inducements to colleagues or entering into arrangements that could be perceived to provide inducements, and
  8. not allowing any financial or commercial interest in a hospital, other healthcare organisation or company providing healthcare services or products to adversely affect the way in which patients or clients are treated. When practitioners or their immediate family have such an interest and that interest could be perceived to influence the care provided, practitioners must inform their patients or clients.

8.12 Financial and commercial dealings

Practitioners must be honest and transparent in financial arrangements with patients or clients. Good practice involves:

  1. not exploiting the vulnerability or lack of knowledge of patients or clients when providing or recommending services
  2. not encouraging patients or clients to give, lend or bequeath money or gifts that will benefit a practitioner directly or indirectly
  3. not accepting gifts from patients or clients other than tokens of minimal value such as flowers or chocolates, and, if token gifts are accepted, making a file note or informing a colleague where possible
  4. not becoming involved financially with patients or clients; for example, through loans and investment schemes
  5. not influencing patients or clients or their families to make donations to other people or organisations, and
  6. being transparent in financial and commercial matters relating to work, including dealings with employers, insurers and other organisations or individuals and in particular:
    • declaring any relevant and material financial or commercial interest that a practitioner or their family might have in any aspect of the care of the patient or client, and
    • declaring to patients or clients any professional and financial interest in any product or service a practitioner might endorse or sell from their practice and not making an unjustifiable profit from the sale or endorsement.

9.1 Introduction

As a practitioner, it is important to maintain health and wellbeing. This includes seeking an appropriate work–life balance.

9.2 Practitioner health

Good practice involves:

  1. attending a general practitioner or other appropriate practitioner to meet health needs
  2. seeking expert, independent, objective advice when a practitioner needs healthcare and being aware of the risks of self-diagnosis and self-treatment
  3. understanding the principles of immunisation against communicable diseases
  4. for practitioners who are able to prescribe, conforming to the legislation in the relevant states and territories in relation to self-prescribing
  5. recognising the impact of fatigue on practitioner health and ability to care for patients or clients and endeavouring to work safe hours whenever possible
  6. being aware of any relevant practitioner health program if advice or help is needed, and
  7. if a practitioner knows or suspects that they have a health condition or impairment that could adversely affect judgement, performance or the health of patients or clients:
    • not relying on self-assessment of the risk posed to patients or clients
    • consulting a doctor or other practitioner as appropriate about whether, and in what ways, the affected practitioner may need to modify practice and following the treating practitioner’s advice, and
    • being aware of practitioner responsibility under the National Law to notify the Boards in relation to certain impairments.

9.3 Other practitioners' health

Health practitioners have a responsibility to assist their colleagues to maintain good health. Good practice involves:

  1. providing practitioners who are patients or clients with the same quality of care provided to other patients or clients
  2. notifying the Boards if treating another registered practitioner who has patients or clients at risk of substantial harm when practising their profession because they have an impairment (refer to the Boards’ guidelines on mandatory reporting); this is a professional as well as a statutory responsibility under the National Law
  3. notifying the Boards and encouraging a colleague (who is not a patient or client) who you work with to seek appropriate help if it is reasonably believed the colleague may be ill and impaired; and if this impairment has placed patients or clients at risk of substantial harm, refer to the notification provisions of the National Law and the Boards’ guidelines on mandatory notifications, and
  4. recognising the impact of fatigue on the health of colleagues, including those under supervision, and facilitating safe working hours wherever possible.

10.1 Introduction

Teaching, supervising and mentoring practitioners and students is important for their development and for the care of patients or clients. It is part of good practice to contribute to these activities and provide support, assessment, feedback and supervision for colleagues, practitioners in training and students. It also adds value to the supervisor’s practice through engagement with the person being supervised and their learning needs. There are a range of supervision models being adopted in the health professions, including coach, mentor and shadow.

10.2 Teaching and supervising

Good practice involves:

  1. seeking to develop the skills, attitudes and practices of an effective teacher, whenever a practitioner is involved in teaching
  2. as a supervisor, recognising that the onus of supervision cannot be transferred
  3. making sure that any practitioner or student under supervision receives adequate oversight and feedback, including undertaking an assessment of each student supervised; reflecting on that student’s ability, competence and learning requirements; and planning their supervision based on that assessment rather than any external direction, and
  4. avoiding any potential for conflict of interest in the supervisory relationship; for example, by supervising someone who is a close relative or friend or where there is another potential conflict of interest that could impede objectivity and/or interfere with the supervised person’s achievement of learning outcomes or relevant experience.

10.3 Assessing colleagues

Assessing colleagues is an important part of making sure that the highest standards or practice are achieved. Good practice involves:

  1. being honest, objective and constructive when assessing the performance of colleagues, including students; patients or clients will be put at risk of harm if an assessment describes as competent someone who is not, and
  2. when giving references or writing reports about colleagues, providing accurate and justifiable information promptly and including all relevant information.

10.4 Students

Students are learning how best to care for patients or clients. Creating opportunities for learning improves their clinical practice and nurtures the future workforce. Good practice involves:

  1. treating students with respect and patience
  2. making the scope of the student’s role in patient or client care clear to the student, to patients or clients and to other members of the healthcare team, and
  3. informing patients or clients about the involvement of students and encouraging their consent for student participation while respecting their right to choose not to consent.

11.1 Introduction

Research involving humans, their tissue samples or their health information is vital in improving the quality of healthcare and reducing uncertainty for patients and clients now and in the future, and in improving the health of the population as a whole. Research in Australia is governed by guidelines issued in accordance with the National Health and Medical Research Council Act 1992 (Cth). Practitioners undertaking research should familiarise themselves with and follow these guidelines.

Research involving animals is governed by legislation in states and territories and by guidelines issued by the NHMRC.

11.2 Research ethics

Being involved in the design, organisation, conduct or reporting of health research involving humans brings particular responsibilities for practitioners. These responsibilities, drawn from the NHMRC guidelines, include:

  1. according to participants the respect and protection that is due to them
  2. acting with honesty and integrity
  3. ensuring that any protocol for human research has been approved by a human research ethics committee, in accordance with the National statement on ethical conduct in human research issued by the NHMRC (which addresses privacy issues, and refers to the need to consider relevant state, territory and federal privacy legislation)
  4. disclosing the sources and amounts of funding for research to the human research ethics committee
  5. disclosing any potential or actual conflicts of interest to the human research ethics committee
  6. ensuring that human participation is voluntary and based on informed consent and an adequate understanding of sufficient information about the purpose, methods, demands, risks and potential benefits of the research
  7. ensuring that any dependent relationship between practitioners and their patients or clients is taken into account in the recruitment of patients or clients as research participants
  8. seeking advice when research involves children or adults who are not able to give informed consent to ensure that there are appropriate safeguards in place, including ensuring that a person empowered to make decisions on the behalf of patients or clients has given informed consent or that there is other lawful authority to proceed
  9. adhering to the approved research protocol
  10. monitoring the progress of the research and reporting adverse events or unexpected outcomes promptly
  11. respecting the entitlement of research participants to withdraw from any research at any time and without giving reasons
  12. adhering to the guidelines regarding publication of findings, authorship and peer review, and
  13. reporting possible fraud or misconduct in research as required under the Australian code for the responsible conduct of research issued by the NHMRC.

Practitioners should refer to the NHMRC publications listed above for more guidance.

11.3 Treating practitioners and research

When practitioners are involved in research that involves patients or clients, good practice includes:

  1. respecting the right of patients or clients to withdraw from a study without prejudice to their treatment, and
  2. ensuring that a decision by patients or clients not to participate does not compromise the practitioner–patient/client relationship or the care of the patient or client.

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care’s website provides relevant guidance on a range of safety and quality issues. Information of particular relevance to health practitioners includes:

  • health literacy
  • open disclosure and incident management
  • hand hygiene, and
  • healthcare rights.

The National Health and Medical Research Council’s website provides relevant information on informed consent and research issues.

Health Workforce Australia’s website provides information on a range of health workforce issues, including resources on clinical supervision.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration’s website provides relevant information on therapeutic goods.

Electronic means any digital form of communication, including email, Skype, internet, social media, etc.

Providing care includes, but is not limited to any care, treatment, advice, service or goods provided in respect of the physical or mental health of a person, whether remunerated or pro bono.

Practice means any role, whether remunerated or not, in which the individual uses their skills and knowledge as a practitioner in their regulated health profession. For the purposes of this code, practice is not restricted to the provision of direct clinical care. It also includes using professional knowledge in a direct non-clinical relationship with patients or clients, working in management, administration, education, research, advisory, regulatory or policy development roles and any other roles that have an impact on safe, effective delivery of health services in the health profession.

Patient or client includes all consumers of healthcare services.

Social media describes the online and mobile tools that people use to share opinions, information, experiences, images, and video or audio clips and includes websites and applications used for social networking. Common sources of social media include, but are not limited to, social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, blogs (personal, professional and those published anonymously), WOMO, True Local and microblogs such as Twitter, content-sharing websites such as YouTube and Instagram, and discussion forums and message boards.

Date of issue: 17 March 2014 
Date of review: This code of conduct will be reviewed from time to time as required. This will generally be every three years.
 
 
 
 
Page reviewed 5/12/2016