Can "giving preference to my patients" be explained as a role related duty in public health care systems?

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Most of us have two strong intuitions (or sets of intuitions) in relation to fairness in health care systems that are funded by public money, whether through taxation or compulsory insurance. The first intuition is that such a system has to treat patients (and other users) fairly, equitably, impartially, justly and without discrimination. The second intuition is that doctors, nurses and other health care professionals are allowed to, and may even in some cases be obligated to give preference to the interests of their particular patients or clients over the interests of other patients or clients of the system. These two intuitions are in potential conflict. One of the most obvious ways in which to ensure impartiality in a health care system is to require impartiality of all actors in the system, i.e. to give health care professionals a duty to treat everyone impartially and to deny them the 'right' to give their patients preferential treatment. And one of the possible side-effects of allowing individual health care professionals to give preference to 'their clients' is to create inequality in health care. This paper explores the conflict and proposes that it can be right to give preference to 'your' patients in certain circumstances. © 2010 The Author(s).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-97
Number of pages8
JournalHealth Care Analysis
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011


  • Discrimination
  • Doctor-patient relationship
  • Preference
  • Resource allocation


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