3 Ethical Issues in the Healthcare Industry (And 2 Ways To Prevent Them)

Prevent ethical violations in the healthcare industry

If you’ve ever watched a hospital drama, you’ll be familiar with the host of ethical dilemmas and grey areas that doctors navigate every day in the real world. Health care workers who fail to address these dilemmas accurately can find themselves in hot water fast, and hospitals and clinics become targets of media criticism, lawsuits, and investigations. Stay one step ahead. Here are three examples of ethical issues in the healthcare industry, and two ways you can stop them.

  • 1) Negligence and Malpractice

Doctors have a lot of patients and a lot on their plates, especially right now. Even with the help of nurses and technicians, there are rarely enough hands to do it all. Most doctors strive to provide the best patient care possible, but not everything can be done at once. Providing hasty medical advice or care because of an overfilled schedule can lead to disastrous results. At the same time, pushing appointments off because you don’t have time to see a patient can also be thought of as negligent, especially if the patient does not receive care in an adequate amount of time and their situation worsens. Dean Scaduto, Co-founder and Senior Editor at Kitchen Infinity, discusses the dangers of rushing through your work to see everyone versus being more thorough but slower.

“Malpractice and negligence charges are always a possibility for healthcare providers. Patients who have been affected by defective medical equipment or products, have been hurt during medical treatment, or have been put in danger due to prescription errors can file a lawsuit to recover their losses. When health care providers fail to provide an essential treatment or service, patients can sue. Because of the constant fear of litigation, medical providers must thoroughly cover all bases when providing patient treatment.”

  • 2) Digitalizing Patient Data

The healthcare industry is littered with ethical dilemmas, especially in an age where technologies and medicines are becoming more advanced. Gerrid Smith, CMO of Joy Organics, highlights one of the pain points caused by new technology in a fast-changing world.

“The digitization of patient data has many advantages. It assists in the automation of healthcare provider workflows and enables advanced medical assessment technologies. But health care professionals who digitalize information also risk privacy violations because they store significant volumes of personal data. The World Health Organization banned the distribution of medical information and carefully governs the processing of sensitive patient health information, yet population health complicates issues of patient privacy.

Population health is the study of huge groups of people's health. Population health is becoming more important in the age of big data, which can correlate diseases to specific locations or socioeconomic groups. For example, population health can identify widespread health issues or disease-prone populations.”

So without access to a patient’s private information, doctors - and health ministries - can’t get a wider sense of diseases affecting particular communities and are a step behind when it comes to aiding those communities. At the same time, your information should be kept private.

  • 3) Patient Confidentiality

Everyone has heard those three comforting words - doctor-patient confidentiality. It lets you trust your physician, no matter how gruesome or embarrassing your situation is. But as Michael Robinson, Security Expert at Cheap SSL Security says, the world isn’t as black and white as it should be.

“The medical state of a patient is considered private information. Violating a patient's confidentiality can be harmful to the patient as well as having legal and ethical ramifications for the health care provider. The Health Insurance Portability and Accounting Act (HIPAA) has established certain rules for the dissemination of a patient's medical records. These laws spell out exactly what kind of patient information can be shared with others and what information must be kept private. The laws also specify who has access to the information and who does not. Although these regulations appear to be clear, there are some grey circumstances, such as when withholding information regarding a patient's illness is unethical because it could hurt the patient or others.”

Do a System Redesign

You want your patients to receive the best care possible. If you’re noticing flaws in the process, it’s time to scrap what you’re doing and put another system in place. This is known as a system redesign, and it is meant to improve the quality of patient care through delivery and support in primary care, the emergency department, acute care, and transitions post-discharge. It should also help doctors and members of the board identify ethical dilemmas in the workplace and address them.

Dr. Sandra El Hajj, a health care professional who writes for MyMSTeam, is a strong believer in the power of system redesigns.

“A system redesign is the most effective method to preventing ethical problems in any health care milieu. This means that any organization's staff, including the quality improvement professionals and the ethics committee members, will have to collaborate in the process of fostering a system redesign. In other words, a synergy will be necessary between the efforts for the quality improvement team and the organizational ethical issues.”

Respect the Multidisciplinary Team

When you’re dealing with a patient, it’s important that you, as their doctor or member of the board of governors, have the full picture. They may have spoken to other physicians who specialize in different disciplines, so it’s important to know their medical history and to consult these doctors. Speaking face-to-face is often easier than consulting data online as it will eliminate miscommunication. Aside from that, discussions can be had on how to best improve the quality of the patient’s care. Pooneh Ramezani, CEO and Co-Founder of Dr. Brite, was a medical doctor for 20 years. She stresses the importance of listening to everyone to avoid ethical conundrums.

“An important tip to maintain ethics in health is to strive for a good relationship with the other members of the multidisciplinary team. While this may seem simple at first, the day-to-day challenges and routine itself can make this task more arduous. It is essential never to discredit the members of the group and to value everyone's work whenever possible. When there is a misunderstanding, it is essential that it be debated and discussed before bringing any moral deception to patients.”

One of the top things your clinic or hospital can do to prevent ethical violations is to set up a HIPAA compliance hotline, install powerful analytics to identify issues and set up real-time reporting methods and case management systems. You can get started at Whistleblower Security.

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photo Amanda Nieweler

Amanda Nieweler

Amanda writes for WhistleBlower Security about ethics, compliance, workplace culture, and whistleblower hotlines. Amanda brings her nearly two decades of risk and compliance experience to the WBS blog where she is dedicated to helping people and companies promote speak-up cultures.