Whether involving patient confidentiality, access to care, technology use, or another critical issue, healthcare administrators encounter ethical challenges on a daily basis.
Ethics are the guiding principles that direct behaviors and decision-making. In health care, there are core principles aimed at doing what is right for patients, healthcare professionals, and society:
- Autonomy—the right of patients who have the ability and freedom to make decisions about their health.
- Beneficence—there is a moral obligation to act in the best interest of patients.
- Nonmaleficence—a commitment to never purposely cause harm to others.
- Justice—focuses on healthcare decisions that are fair and offer an equal distribution of resources and treatments.
These principles are the framework for which health leaders can manage today’s complex issues—evolving medical technologies, rising healthcare costs, or inequities in health care. The healthcare industry is constantly changing, but ethical principles remain at the heart of compassionate and effective care.
Common Ethical Challenges
Health administrators must balance the needs of patients, employees, and the facilities they run. They are responsible for ethical issues on a broader systemic level. Therefore, the ethical challenges they experience are multifaceted.
Some real-life examples of ethical dilemmas health administrators face:
- Cost of medical resources vs quality of patient care.
- What is the best way to acquire a patient’s informed consent for the use of predictive analyses based on their private information?
- Potential conflicts of interest—are relationships with pharmaceutical companies or other corporations influencing the medicine or care being provided?
The COVID-19 pandemic has also pushed several healthcare issues to the forefront. These issues include ethical questions about contact-tracing methods, physical distancing, healthcare workers’ rights, and end-of-life decisions. The pandemic also exacerbated concerns about health inequities and whether everyone is receiving fair access to health care.
There is always a need for healthcare administrators to address ethical challenges. Overall, they need to establish how ethics will be incorporated into the routine decision-making of medical providers and staff.
Setting Standards for Ethical Behavior in Healthcare
Health administrators are responsible for ensuring ethical standards are followed across their organizations. They create a culture of ethics, in which rules for conduct are established. Healthcare leaders can provide the guidelines physicians and practitioners need to make appropriate decisions.
The American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) has a Code of Ethics for healthcare leaders that is a guide for developing ethical policies. The Code of Ethics emphasizes the ethical responsibilities of healthcare leaders, including their obligations to fellow healthcare professionals and the public. Administrators and leaders are, the Code says, models of ethical behavior and so their actions must reflect personal integrity, honesty, and competency in healthcare management.
Support Ethical Health CareCurrently, there are complex issues in health care that not only require leaders with extensive administration skills, but also a strong sense of ethics. Health administrators must manage business, operational, financial, and medical responsibilities for their organizations. With courses in management, strategy, and ethics, William Woods University’s Master of Health Administration (MHA) degree program prepares leaders who can guide ethical standards in their organizations.