WCM-Q’s Intersection of Law and Medicine series highlights legal, ethical perspectives in healthcare

Experts have established that a synergy between legal practice and medicine is necessary for healthcare systems to operate seamlessly. Even as the healthcare sector experiences changes and reforms, the legal and ethical aspects of care must not be compromised so that people’s health is adequately taken care of. To bridge that gap, the Intersection of Law and Medicine series was started in 2015 by Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q) and in 2019, WCM-Q continued the series in collaboration with Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) College of Law and Public Policy to improve the understanding of healthcare practitioners in Qatar about the legal aspects of the healthcare system, both locally and globally, and to enhance their role as physicians and advocates of their patients.

The series brings together physicians and other healthcare professionals, lawyers, academics and ethicists in one space to discuss and create awareness about legal and ethical issues that impact the healthcare practitioners in Qatar. The meetings, which are convened three times a year, gather healthcare practitioners from government and private healthcare providers. It is worth noting that those who practice complementary and alternative forms of medicine are also involved in the forums. Coordinated and delivered by the Division for Continuing Professional Development at WCM-Q, the subjects covered so far include elderly care, mental health, telemedicine, ethical and legal challenges in healthcare, Islam and bioethics, and end-of-life care. Besides the locally renowned speakers, the program has hosted internationally renowned speakers who inform the participants of developments in the law and best practice. 

Dr. Arayssi, Professor of Clinical Medicine and Vice Dean for Academic and Curricular Affairs at WCM-Q said: “As healthcare practitioners, we realized that our relationship with the patient extends beyond just taking care of their disease. We must understand the context where they are coming from, the healthcare system, and legal and ethical aspects that would enhance the care of our patients. We need to know and understand the laws and how they impact our healthcare practice. Understanding both the ethical and legal perspectives will enhance the care of the patients and will enhance our roles as healthcare practitioners in advocating for our patients.”

The Intersection of Law and Medicine series exists to ensure physicians and healthcare professionals are aware of the laws governing the practice of medicine in Qatar, it provides an opportunity for dialogue to examine the law on issues like legal protection for patients, medical malpractice and challenges with creating a universal understanding in a diverse healthcare workforce and patient base. Whilst rapid  advances in medicine in areas such as artificial intelligence and stem cell research provide healthcare  professionals with new opportunities for treating their patients, they present new ethical dilemmas which require robust legal and ethical frameworks to protect patients, practitioners and communities.  

Since Qatar’s healthcare sector is diverse, with healthcare professionals and patients from all over the world, a needs assessment was conducted to inform the design and development of the Law and Medicine series. Healthcare practitioners were surveyed in Qatar and the region to find out what their needs were, and the educational series was then designed based on these identified needs. This is also evident in the diversity of the speakers who come from different parts of the world, reflecting the diversity in Qatar.  In addition, the speakers address not only what is happening in Qatar but also discuss legal and ethical issues affecting healthcare in the wider region and globally. The diversity of Qatar’s population is also an advantage to the healthcare professionals when it comes to law and ethics. This enhances the practitioners’ understanding about the needs of the diverse population across the world and provides an opportunity for them to learn from each other and about each other. This gives an opportunity to enhance the skills and understanding of the healthcare practitioners of the diverse patient population.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic presented many challenges to the healthcare sector, there were also major developments in the area of patient care. The use of telehealth has been enhanced during the time of COVID-19, giving virtual healthcare services to patients who were not able to access their physicians physically, due to various reasons such as COVID restrictions, living in rural areas or not having anyone to take them to the physician.

For the Law and Medicine series, shifting online enhanced the feasibility of the program because it allowed more people to attend the series. Discussions included the latest topics related to the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare; for instance, the importance of telehealth and challenges of telehealth which was used tremendously during the time of COVID-19.

As the fields of medicine and research continue to evolve, there are challenges that will come along because of the proliferation of technology; for instance, in the areas of Artificial Intelligence (AI), genome editing and stem cell therapies. Artificial Intelligence or genetic research will likely have a huge impact on the standard of care provided by physicians. Currently, anything the physicians do has to comply with certain standards of care as recognised in their field, whether it is treating the patient, prescribing the drugs or even performing operations. However, AI is potentially paradigm shifting and could end up assisting or guiding the decisions and actions of physicians, for instance by making a recommendation to a physician about how to treat a patient or which drugs to prescribe. This poses a challenge relating to legal and ethical standards because if, for instance, AI is used in robotic surgery and something goes wrong, it could potentially be difficult to determine who is ultimately responsible for injuries or suboptimal health outcomes sustained by the patient. 

Qatar’s regulatory environment has developed tremendously in the recent past, with many new guidelines being implemented. The Ministry of Public Health has created guidelines in consultation with experts, thus impacting the practice or research. In addition, when it comes to practice, new laws have been implemented to regulate areas such as mental health and organ transplants, for example. The mental health law covers the requirements to be admitted to a psychiatric unit hospital, while the organ transplant law tackles who can donate organs or tissues. From the legal perspective, there has been the creation of laws but there are still developments that need to be done in the legal framework for instance in medical research law and medical liability law.

Despite Qatar having a crossroads community, the Islamic law and ethics interact harmoniously with western legal concepts. This is largely because the Ministry of Public Health consults a wide variety of stakeholders locally, regionally and internationally and investigates laws from a variety of jurisdictions when formulating new policy and legislation. International laws such as those from US, UK and Canada as well as the Gulf region, some of which might have been informed by Islamic perspectives, are investigated. 

Regarding the collaboration between WCM-Q and HBKU, Dr. Barry Solaiman, Assistant Professor of Law in the College of Law and Public Policy at Hamad Bin Khalifa University, said: “For the Law and Medicine series, we identified that there was a need in the region generally for legal expertise in the area of healthcare law. We need to bridge the gap between law practice and medicine and physicians who are qualified, need to navigate all these issues, which they may not learn about, to a deep degree, during their medical education. Therefore, this collaboration is important because it impacts directly on the practice of healthcare professionals in Qatar and we are able to measure those areas of expertise and offer excellent care to the local community.”

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