[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: One of the ethical issues identified in response to a possible pandemic is healthcare workers' duty to provide care during a communicable disease outbreak. Healthcare employees may be subject to a variety of work obligations under such conditions. Questions of duty to treat remain controversial, and debate continues as to the ethical articulation of a duty to treat. This study aimed to investigate opinions from healthcare workers themselves on the perceived duty to treat, and how they might respond to a severe avian flu pandemic.
Using system-wide e-mail, we surveyed employees at our rural tertiary/quaternary care health system regarding their knowledge of our institution's pandemic planning policy and their willingness to work in the event of a virulent avian pandemic.
Results (N=908) show that employees felt a responsibility for"duty to care." Over 60% disagreed that it was ethical to abandon the workplace during a pandemic. However, opinions also stated that employees wanted autonomy to decide whether or not to work (65%). When asked about volunteering, 79% would agree to volunteer, given some incentives and protective options, the most salient being protective equipment (with relative training for use) and infectious disease training.
Our research demonstrated that the healthcare workers a tour institution voiced an earnest willingness to work in the event of an avian flu pandemic, if provided with the necessary input, protections and tools, and education. The use of an electronic methodology for dissemination of surveys allowed the low-cost solicitation of information from a vast proportion of the workforce with ease, providing the institutional ethics committee with the empirical data needed to articulate more meaningful,thoughtful, and robust suggestions for ethical pandemic planning.