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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Influenza pandemic and professional duty: family or patients first? A survey of hospital employees

Boris P Ehrenstein*, Frank Hanses and Bernd Salzberger

Author Affiliations

Dept. of Internal Medicine I, University Medical Center Regensburg, Germany

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BMC Public Health 2006, 6:311  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-6-311

Published: 28 December 2006

Abstract

Background

Conflicts between professional duties and fear of influenza transmission to family members may arise among health care professionals (HCP).

Methods

We surveyed employees at our university hospital regarding ethical issues arising during the management of an influenza pandemic.

Results

Of 644 respondents, 182 (28%) agreed that it would be professionally acceptable for HCP to abandon their workplace during a pandemic in order to protect themselves and their families, 337 (52%) disagreed with this statement and 125 (19%) had no opinion, with a higher rate of disagreement among physicians (65%) and nurses (54%) compared with administrators (32%). Of all respondents, 375 (58%) did not believe that the decision to report to work during a pandemic should be left to the individual HCP and 496 (77%) disagreed with the statement that HCP should be permanently dismissed for not reporting to work during a pandemic. Only 136 (21%) respondents agreed that HCW without children should primarily care for the influenza patients.

Conclusion

Our results suggest that a modest majority of HCP, but only a minority of hospital administrators, recognises the obligation to treat patients despite the potential risks. Professional ethical guidelines allowing for balancing the needs of society with personal risks are needed to help HCP fulfil their duties in the case of a pandemic influenza.