Purpose

A code of ethical conduct sets out the ethical principles governing the conduct of members of the physiotherapy profession in Canada. It is a moral anchor that assures clients*, the public, and other health-care providers that members of the profession strive for the highest standards of ethical conduct. The code must reflect the societal ethics of the time, as well as the value systems and moral principles of the physiotherapy profession in Canada. The Code of Ethical Conduct applies to all members of the physiotherapy profession in all contexts of practice and through all stages of their careers. It must always be used in conjunction with relevant federal and provincial legislation and with regulations, policies, procedures, and standards that regulate professional practice.

Client refers to a patient, their substitute decision-maker, “family group, community or organization receiving professional services, products or information.” Adapted from National Physiotherapy Advisory Group. (2009). Essential Competency Profile for Physiotherapists in Canada. (This document is presently being updated).

Click here to view the Code of Ethical Conduct as a PDF.

The Code does not tell practitioners exactly how to act in every situation, rather it provides a benchmark against which to measure ethical decisions in every-day practice and in highly complex situations. In every situation; however, it is the duty of each member of the profession to act in an ethically responsible manner, using the principles of the Code to guide ethical conduct. As ethical decision-making is often an interdisciplinary issue, each practitioner is encouraged to seek additional advice or consultation when ethical decisions are unclear. Members of the physiotherapy profession should be able to articulate their rationale for all ethical decisions and should take responsibility for their decision-making and actions.

Ethical principles form the foundation of ethical conduct and provide guidance along the pathway to ethical decision-making. While there are several approaches to ethical principles, this document uses the classical ethical principles described below as a basic guide to ethical conduct. Emphasis is on the pursuit of excellence in all professional activities, as well as the ability to act with integrity, accountability and good judgment in the best interests of the client, the public, the individual (self), and the profession.

  • Respect for Autonomy states that people should be allowed to make decisions that apply to their lives and to have control over their lives as much as possible. Autonomy requires a physiotherapist to respect a client’s freedom to decide for themselves and includes obtaining informed consent.
  • Beneficence guides the practitioner to do what is good with respect to the welfare of the client. In physiotherapy practice, the physiotherapist should provide benefit to the client’s health.
  • Least Harm deals with situations in which none of the choices available are judged to be the best. In this case, a practitioner should choose to do the least harm possible and to do harm to the fewest people. For physiotherapists, this may mean recommending an intervention that is the best of two alternatives even though both alternatives may have negative side effects.
  • Justice requires that the actions chosen are objective and equitable to those involved. An ethical decision that relates to justice has a consistent logical basis that supports the decision. For physiotherapists, justice relates to treating people fairly and to allocating resources fairly between clients.

In addition to the ethical principles, there are several professional values that help to support ethical conduct in the profession - these are the values that underpin and motivate a member of the physiotherapy profession’s efforts every day and inspire all of their actions. The key values include responsibility, excellence, trustworthiness, honesty, integrity, professionalism, citizenship, respect, dignity, communication, collaboration, advocacy, transparency, and well-being.

The ethical responsibilities below are described under three headings: those that apply to the client; those that apply to the public; and those that apply to the individual practitioner (self) and the profession. Ethical responsibilities are intended to serve as a guide to ethical conduct. They will not all apply all of the time nor in all situations, but they should serve as a reference to guide to sound ethical conduct and to help to prevent unethical behaviours and choices.

Members of the physiotherapy profession have an ethical responsibility to:

  1. Demonstrate sensitivity toward individual clients, respecting and taking into consideration their unique rights, needs, beliefs, values, culture, goals, and environmental context.
  2. Act in a respectful manner and do not refuse care or treatment to any client on the prohibited grounds of discrimination as specified in the Canadian Human Rights Act* as well as on the grounds of social or health status.
  3. Work in partnership with clients to improve, support and/or sustain their health status and well-being.
  4. Maintain professional boundaries that honour and respect the therapeutic relationship with clients.
  5. Communicate openly, honestly and respectfully with clients at all times.
  6. Respect the principles of informed consent including by explaining service options, risks, benefits, potential outcomes, possible consequences of refusing treatment or services, and by avoiding coercion.
  7. Treat clients only when the diagnosis or continuation of the intervention warrants treatment and is not contraindicated.
  8. Respect and support the autonomy of the client to participate in the management and decision-making relating their own health.
  9. Provide an alternative treatment option through referral to another health-care provider/physiotherapist if the therapeutic relationship is compromised.
  10. Respect the confidentiality, privacy, and security of client information in all forms of communication.
  11. Use electronic communication and social media and other forms of digital technology professionally and respectfully, conforming to confidentiality guidelines.
  12. Practice in a safe, competent, accountable and responsible manner during the provision of services.
  13. Take all reasonable steps to prevent harm to clients. Should harm occur disclose it to the client and others as required.
  14. Take responsibility for the client care delegated to students and other members of the health-care team.
  15. Practice the profession of physiotherapy according to their own competence and limitations, referring the client to others as necessary.
  16. Practice collaboratively with colleagues, other health professionals and agencies for the benefit of clients.
  17. Enhance their expertise through lifelong acquisition and refinement of knowledge, skills, abilities and professional behaviours.
  18. Comply with all legislation, guidelines, and regulatory requirements that pertain to the profession of physiotherapy.

*Canadian Human Rights Act (2012). Prohibited grounds of discrimination: For all purposes of this Act, the prohibited grounds of discrimination are race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.

Members of the physiotherapy profession have an ethical responsibility to:

  1. Conduct and present themselves with integrity and professionalism.
  2. Respect diversity and provide care that is both culturally sensitive and appropriate.
  3. Advocate within their capacity and context to address clients’ needs and the broad determinants of health and to improve the standards of health care.
  4. Work effectively within the health-care system and manage resources responsibly.
  5. Act transparently and with integrity in all professional and business practices including fees and billing; advertising of professional services; and real and/or perceived conflicts of interest.
  6. Assess the quality and impact of their services regularly.
  7. Be professionally and morally responsible for addressing incompetent, unsafe, illegal, or unethical practice of any health-care provider and legally responsible for reporting conduct that puts the client at risk to the appropriate authority/ies.
  8. Take responsibility for their own physical and mental health and refrain from practicing physiotherapy while their ability to provide appropriate and competent care is compromised.

Members of the physiotherapy profession have an ethical responsibility to:

  1. Commit to maintaining and enhancing the reputation and standing of the physiotherapy profession, and to inspiring public trust and confidence by treating everyone with dignity and respect in all interactions.
  2. Commit to lifelong learning and excellence in practice.
  3. Act honestly, transparently and with integrity in all professional and business practices to uphold the reputation of the profession.
  4. Recognize the responsibility to share evidence-informed and clinical best practices in physiotherapy with each other and other health-care professionals.
  5. Contribute to the development of the profession through support of research, mentoring, and student supervision.
  6. Refrain from harassment, abuse or discrimination of colleagues, employees, or students.
  7. Attend to their own health and well-being.