Health Professionals' Enactment of Their Accountability Obligations: Doing the Best They Can
Social Science & Medicine
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In the current context of health care, health professionals' accountability obligations may be more extensive than the degree of autonomy that they are permitted to exercise. To date, how professionals fulfil their obligations with regard to this potential for dissonance has not been investigated. The purpose of this Grounded Theory study was to examine how one professional group, occupational therapists, enacted their accountability obligations within their current practice context. Interviews with 21 therapists across three practice sectors in one Canadian province elicited a detailed portrait of the contextual elements within which accountability enactment took place, and a view of the dynamic interplay of these elements with the decision-making involved in fulfilling professional accountabilities. Practitioners moved back and forth between conscious juggling of accountability expectations and more automatically applying tacit practice knowledge. Beyond non-negotiable bottom line commitments to their formal ethical obligations and to retaining autonomy for their clinical recommendations, practitioners' decisions reflected the goal of doing their best. However, participants' efforts to find a balance between satisfactorily fulfilling their obligations and acknowledging the frequently unavoidable reality of contextual constraints elicited inconsistent patterns. The study findings raise concerns about ensuring quality of services and the impact on professionals. Although practitioners have an important role to play in addressing these challenges, other stakeholders, for example, the professional regulatory bodies, also must play a role in creating a coherent accountability framework. Further research is needed to obtain greater understanding of professional accountability enactment across health professions, practice sectors and health jurisdictions, and to explore managerial and professional regulatory bodies' perspectives, roles and responsibilities.