When Doctors Become ‘Patients’: Advocating a Patient-Centered Approach for Health Care Workers in the Context of Mandatory Influenza Vaccinations and Informed Consent

Source: Christine Nero Coughlin, Nancy M. P. King, Kathi Kemper, Wake Forest University Legal Studies Paper No. 1656648, August 4, 2010

From the abstract:
Today’s health care delivery has evolved from a physician-centered model into a more patient-centered model. Although the definition and boundaries of the patient-centered health care movement are still being developed and refined, patient-centered care is arguably distinguishable, both historically and conceptually, from public health.

Nonetheless, just as public health concerns and individual medical choices have come together in some health care decision-making contexts for centuries, contemporary questions such as whether hospitals should mandate annual influenza vaccinations for their health care workers involve legal and ethical principles underlying the patient-centered movement, most notably that of informed consent.

This article discusses some of the legal arguments addressing health care employers’ mandatory influenza vaccination policies in the United States. In particular, we examine the relationship between influenza vaccination mandates imposed on health care workers by private sector employers and informed consent to vaccination, in the absence of federal or state vaccination requirements. This article proposes that the practice of requiring employees to sign a consent form when they receive the influenza vaccination as a condition of continued employment conflicts with the ethical and legal doctrine of informed consent, and concludes that when an employer’s policy effectively removes an employee’s freedom to choose whether to become vaccinated, it is unethical to require that health care worker to sign a consent form. The article advocates that if, despite controversy over such policies, employers choose to mandate immunization, they provide an alternative form, so that health care workers who would not seek vaccination except to avoid termination of employment may acknowledge that acquiescence to vaccination is informed but not voluntary.

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