The role of ethics in responsible healthcare management

Mar 1, 2022

Two doctors sitting at a desk looking at a laptop together

The healthcare industry is complex. All roles within it – from administrators and clinicians on the frontline, to managerial roles behind the scenes – can be both highly rewarding and highly challenging. Jobs throughout the healthcare system are inherently full of decisions: from the type of care a patient receives, to the resources a care unit needs, each carries consequences for patients’ lives and can lead to conflicts.

As such, high ethical standards for public health are critical to healthcare. Decisions and issues of this nature – where lives are at risk – are part and parcel of the day-to-day roles of health professionals across the sector.

Ethics and healthcare

Ethical standards associated with the moral decision-making related to medical practices and policies fall under the umbrella of health, or medical, ethics. There are four guiding principles healthcare workers should follow when examining the merits and difficulties of medical procedures, as developed by Thomas L. Beauchamp and James D. Childress:

  • Autonomy: Determine the wishes of patients to protect their autonomy.
  • Justice: Follow due process to determine limits on healthcare and treat patients alike.
  • Beneficence: Seek the best interests of patients.
  • Non-maleficence: Determine what counts as harm to avoid.

Deciding on a treatment plan for a patient can lead to challenges which pose ethical dilemmas. For example, there can be disagreements about treatment options, limited resources, and waiting lists to navigate. The principles can assist healthcare experts to identify ethical issues and involve patients in their treatment options in a bid to find solutions. Many healthcare leaders establish committees dedicated to ethical decision-making. At its core, health ethics seeks to respect and value the concerns of all stakeholders – from patients and their families to health service providers and workers.

Examples of ethical issues in healthcare and health management

In the US, death by malpractice or negligence – or iatrogenic harm, where injury or illness is caused by the healer – is the nation’s leading cause of accidental death. In fact, it exceeds all other causes of accidental death combined. A global focus in the healthcare sector – a high-risk arena by nature – issues of malpractice are of critical importance. Every professional involved in providing care must be responsible for the essential responsibilities of patient care. Negligence can present in numerous ways, such as: misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis; faulty medical equipment; and disagreement about tests and procedures which affect treatment.

Breaching doctor-patient confidentiality has ethical – as well as legal – consequences for healthcare providers. Privacy and security extends to medical records, dictating who can access confidential information and who cannot. However, it is not always a simple issue: at times, withholding medical information could harm a patient, while the opposite could also be true.

Cost-related access to care is a significant barrier to many who need high-quality medical intervention. In many countries across the world, those without health insurance or financial means to access medical care are left in precarious, dangerous situations. In 2021, the World Health Organization advised that – even before the Covid-19 pandemic – more than half a billion people were pushed, or further pushed, into extreme poverty due to healthcare costs. Healthcare administrations are urged to prioritise reducing healthcare costs to shield people from affordability and access-related barriers to care – for example, via Medicaid and similar services.

Other ethical issues include Do-Not-Resuscitate (DNR) orders and physician-assisted suicide.

How is risk management used in healthcare?

Risk management presents a major challenge for healthcare leadership as lives are on the line. It cuts through the entire health ecosystem, identifying potential threats to patients, staff and the organisation as a whole. For many organisations, the bottom-line is the most important factor: for health systems, while this is important, preventing harm and promoting population health are the most important guiding principles.

It is imperative that healthcare organisations take an integrated, real-time approach to risk management. This is the only way to ensure swift, accurate and strategic decision-making throughout the service. Technology-based risk management programmes can assist with this, adding value across a number of key areas:

  • Improving the quality of patient care. Fully integrated information technology serves to minimise silos, connect data and electronic health records (EHR) in a ‘single source of truth’, and make data accessible to all stakeholders. Crucially, it also offers the transparency necessary to identify small warning signs before they become big problems – for both patients and the organisation.
  • Facilitating compliance.Software that consolidates risks and information into a single location, tracks each step of an action plan, and automatically alerts appropriate parties makes it easier to stay compliant. This is invaluable when dealing with complex health requirements for reimbursement, and provider-quality evaluations.
  • Establishing consistency. Technology makes it simpler to take a shared approach to addressing all types of risk. Relevant parties can visualise risks and interrelationships, make sense of data, and identify actionable insights in time to make a difference.
  • Reducing the number of vendors. Using a single, integrated platform is an increasingly popular approach in minimising the need for numerous technology vendors. It is integral to tackling cybersecurity breaches and cyberattacks – particularly concerning patient data such as health records – and risks associated with third-parties. The advent of telehealth has made this even more important.
  • Elevating resilience. Risk management technology identifies both upsides and downsides to risk, helping to mitigate hazards and present opportunities in a fast-changing environment.
  • Streamlining processes. Healthcare professionals can use integrated technology – which eliminates duplication and silos, and facilitates organisation-wide collaboration – to achieve more with fewer resources, better care for patients, and foster a culture of safety.

Prepare yourself for senior leadership roles in healthcare management

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