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Declaration of Seoul on Professional Autonomy and Clinical Independence

Adopted by the 59th WMA General Assembly, Seoul, Korea, October 2008
And amended by
 the 69th WMA General Assembly, Reykjavik, Iceland, October 2018

The WMA reaffirms the Declaration of Madrid on professionally-led regulation.

The World Medical Association recognises the essential nature of professional autonomy and physician clinical independence, and states that:

  1. Professional autonomy and clinical independence are essential elements in providing quality health care to all patients and populations. Professional autonomy and independence are essential for the delivery of high quality health care and therefore benefit patients and society.
  2. Professional autonomy and clinical independence describes the processes under which individual physicians have the freedom to exercise their professional judgment in the care and treatment of their patients without undue or inappropriate influence by outside parties or individuals.
  3. Medicine is highly complex. Through lengthy training and experience, physicians become medical experts weighing evidence to formulate advice to patients. Whereas patients have the right to self-determination, deciding within certain constraints which medical interventions they will undergo, they expect their physicians to be free to make clinically appropriate recommendations.
  4. Physicians recognize that they must take into account the structure of the health system and available resources when making treatment decisions. Unreasonable restraints on clinical independence imposed by governments and administrators are not in the best interests of patients because they may not be evidence based and risk undermining trust which is an essential component of the patient-physician relationship.
  5. Professional autonomy is limited by adherence to professional rules, standards and the evidence base.
  6. Priority setting and limitations on health care coverage are essential due to limited resources. Governments, health care funders (third party payers), administrators and Managed Care organisations may interfere with clinical autonomy by seeking to impose rules and limitations. These may not reflect evidence-based medicine principles, cost-effectiveness and the best interest of patients. Economic evaluation studies  may be undertaken from a funder’s not a users’ perspective and emphasise cost-savings rather than health outcomes.
  7. Priority setting, funding decision making and resource allocation/limitations processes are frequently not transparent. A lack of transparency further perpetuates health inequities.
  8. Some hospital administrators and third-party payers consider physician professional autonomy to be incompatible with prudent management of health care costs. Professional autonomy allows physicians to help patients make informed choices, and supports physicians if they refuse demands by patients and family members for access to inappropriate treatments and services.
  9. Care is given by teams of health care professionals, usually led by physicians. No member of the care team should interfere with the professional autonomy and clinical independence of the physician who assumes the ultimate responsibility for the care of the patient. In situations where another team member has clinical concerns about the proposed course of treatment, a mechanism to voice those concerns without fear of reprisal should exist.
  10. The delivery of health care by physicians is governed by ethical rules, professional norms and by applicable law. Physicians contribute to the development of normative standards, recognizing that this both regulates their work as professionals and provides assurance to the public.
  11. Ethics committees, credentials committees and other forms of peer review have long been established, recognised and accepted by organised medicine as ways of scrutinizing physicians’ professional conduct and, where appropriate, may impose reasonable restrictions on the absolute professional freedom of physicians.
  12. The World Medical Association reaffirms that professional autonomy and clinical independence are essential components of high quality medical care and the patient-physician relationship that must be preserved. The WMA also affirms that professional autonomy and clinical independence are core elements of medical professionalism.
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