Every day, patients, families and healthcare professionals navigate ethical and legal issues and decisions. These difficult dilemmas may concern patient autonomy, medical treatments, practices, hospital management and other matters that arise in the healthcare industry. Ethical issues in healthcare can require an immediate response, such as making decisions for patients when they are not able to do so, or a prolonged, carefully considered decision, such as the debate over the right to abortion or physician-assisted death.
The actions taken when considering ethical issues in healthcare clearly distinguish between what is right and wrong, and often, many of the actions taken today can have lasting effects on healthcare in the future. The policies and guidelines set and upheld by healthcare leaders and managers outline, define and enforce ethical practice and action in their organizations. As such, the study of ethics is woven into a great deal of coursework in advanced healthcare administration programs like the University of Texas at Tyler’s online Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a concentration in Healthcare Management.
There are numerous ethical challenges that clinical leaders, health practitioners and patients face in healthcare, many of which are among the most discussed current issues in the field. Some examples of common medical ethical issues include:
1. Patient Privacy and Confidentiality
The protection of private patient information is one of the most important ethical and legal issues in the field of healthcare. Conversations between a physician and a patient are strictly confidential, as is information about an individual’s medical condition. Specific provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, define exactly what information can be released and to whom.
While health information privacy is clearly defined and regulated, ethical considerations like the sharing of personal health information during the COVID-19 pandemic can complicate matters. Personal health information is widely protected, but information regarding elements like vaccination status, exposure and contact tracing can help public health officials save lives, introducing conflicting ethical and legal concerns.
2. Transmission of Diseases
The COVID-19 pandemic also put a renewed emphasis on the right of healthcare providers to protect themselves from communicable diseases, whether by direct or indirect contact with an infected patient. Ethical and legal questions arise when a patient’s health history is not provided to the medical staff.
The pandemic also forced businesses to walk a fine line of health-related ethical and legal considerations in decision-making, balancing the mitigation of viral spread, employee safety, business continuity and employee rights. When dealing with issues like vaccine mandates, whether in the private sector or public health arena, ethical (and legal) dilemmas abound concerning autonomy, beneficence, maleficence and justice (often considered the four main ethical principles in medical professions).
Inappropriate relationships between medical practitioners and patients at a healthcare facility are considered strictly unethical for numerous reasons. Romantic or sexual relationships between colleagues can easily become problematic as well. Inappropriate relationships between management and staff are rife with potential for abuse, coercion and sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment and misconduct can be extremely harmful to all involved, including the facility. A healthcare organization’s code of ethics and disciplinary policies must be explicit about defining, prohibiting and holding perpetrators accountable for sexual harassment and misconduct.
4. End-of-Life Issues
Terminally ill patients may have specific wishes and medical directives concerning the way they want their lives to end. Families may struggle with the decision to end life support for a loved one. Healthcare practitioners and clinical leaders need to be prepared to handle end-of-life issues as well as problems encountered in dealing with elderly patients who may not be able to make rational decisions on their own.
Plus, new laws and regulations often cause ethically complex change for healthcare organizations. Using the example of end-of-life issues, some states have legalized the personal right to pursue physician-assisted death in certain circumstances. Yet, some medical professionals may not feel ethically comfortable upholding this medical directive and right of patients. Balancing legal rights, patient choices and conflicting ethical positions can be a challenging aspect of modern healthcare management, to say the least.
Ethical Issues in Healthcare in an Online MBA Program
The rapid growth of the medical industry in the United States has created an increasing demand for skilled clinical leaders who understand the complexity and challenges of health systems, practices and ethical issues.
UT Tyler’s online MBA with a concentration in Healthcare Management includes general management studies along with focused healthcare management concentration courses, all of which help students explore legal and ethical issues in healthcare. An MBA graduate in healthcare management will be ready to improve patient care from a business and ethical perspective at the departmental or organizational level.
Learn more about the UT Tyler online MBA with a concentration in Healthcare Management program.