Constrained physical therapist practice: An ethical case analysis of recommending discharge placement from the acute care setting

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Background and Purpose. Constrained practice is routinely encountered by physical therapists and may limit the physical therapist's primary moral responsibility-which is to help the patient to become well again. Ethical practice under such conditions requires a certain moral character of the practitioner. The purposes of this article are: (1) to provide an ethical analysis of a typical patient case of constrained clinical practice, (2) to discuss the moral implications of constrained clinical practice, and (3) to identify key moral principles and virtues fostering ethical physical therapist practice. Case. The case represents a common scenario of discharge planning in acute care health facilities in the northeastern United States. Methods. An applied ethics approach was used for case analysis. Results. The decision following analysis of the dilemma was to provide the needed care to the patient as required by compassion, professional ethical standards, and organizational mission. Discussion and Conclusions. Constrained clinical practice creates a moral dilemma for physical therapists. Being responsive to the patient's needs moves the physical therapist's practice toward the professional ideal of helping vulnerable patients become well again. Meeting the patient's needs is a professional requirement of the physical therapist as moral agent. Acting otherwise requires an alternative position be ethically justified based on systematic analysis of a particular case. Skepticism of status quo practices is required to modify conventional individual, organizational, and societal practices toward meeting the patient's best interest. © 2010 American Physical Therapy Association.

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Physical Therapy

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