Health care administrators play a significant role in establishing the programs and environments that directly affect patient care delivery within their health system. Dilemmas often arise that require an administrator to make difficult decisions, many of which include an ethical component. Being prepared for these situations is why ethical leadership and decision-making are key components of health care administration degree programs. Both skills are necessary for future leaders seeking to navigate evolving U.S. health care challenges.
The Ohio University Master of Health Administration online program helps mid-career professionals develop a fundamental, built-in ethical compass, along with the ability to analyze situations for their ethical components.
Below are four ethical dilemmas you could face in your career as a health administrator:
Balancing Fiscal Responsibility and Ethics
Health administrators often are responsible for making financial decisions that can impact both their health care organization and the quality of care delivered. It can be very challenging to balance competing demands, and it sometimes pits budget, quality, and ethics against each other. For example, administrators often must choose between hiring more staff to decrease nurse-to-patient ratios and buying or repairing equipment.
Mitigating Legal Risks Ethically
Malpractice and medical lawsuits can be devastating to any medical practice. As a health administrator, you may be asked to work with staff to resolve complaints before these issues escalate to the point of legal action and to help ensure that your organization’s providers are basing their decisions on patients’ needs over other factors. Appropriate actions may include disciplining or terminating a member of a health care team.
Fear of legal action may also cause providers to engage in “defensive medicine.” Writing for the National Institutes of Health, M. Sonal Sekhar and N. Vyas explain, “Defensive medicine in simple words is departing from normal medical practice as a safeguard from litigation. It occurs when a medical practitioner performs treatment or a procedure to avoid exposure to malpractice litigation.” Balancing legal issues requires careful ethical analysis of all the issues.
Ethics of Privacy
An important ethical principle is maintaining the right to privacy and autonomy. Health care organizations are increasingly reliant on technology, such as electronic health records (EHRs), for recording, storing, and transmitting sensitive health information. Administrators may play a role in ensuring that these systems adhere to all the relevant laws and regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). However, as Philip Merideth explains in the journal Psychiatry, there are circumstances under which confidentiality must be broken, for example, to prevent harm to a patient or outside party. A thorough understanding of these rules and ability to analyze the ethical principles involved is important for professional leadership.
The Ethics of Managing Influential Relationships
Health care administrators may work to manage relationships with many stakeholders, including external vendors who provide products and services, including brand-name medications, diagnostic equipment, and software solutions. This attention is necessary to ensure that staff members are making decisions in the patients’ best interests without outside influence. One example to avoid is a doctor or nurse prescribing medication — even if it’s not medically necessary or there are better alternatives — to obtain a benefit promised from a pharmaceutical sales rep.
Health administrators are industry leaders with the education and authority to shape ethical policy in health care. By understanding and integrating principles of ethical leadership into your organization, you can help to educate your colleagues and promote the highest quality of patient care.
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