High ethical standards are essential in healthcare. Four fundamental principles lay the foundation for healthcare ethics.
- Autonomy honors patients’ right to make their own decisions.
- Beneficence helps patients advance their own good.
- Nonmaleficence does no harm to patients.
- Justice ensures that patients are treated equally, fairly and impartially.
Current ethical issues in healthcare center on these guiding principles. Healthcare professionals must be prepared to navigate the following issues.
5 Ethical Issues in Healthcare
1. Improving Access to Care
The Department of Health and Human Services identified access to healthcare as an objective for its Healthy People 2010 and Healthy People 2020 initiatives. In 2012, only 83.1 percent of people had medical insurance. The latest figures from the National Health Interview Survey show that 12.5 percent of adults under age 65 are uninsured. Improving access to care has been a central issue in healthcare for many years. This includes not just private insurance but also Medicare, Medicaid, military and other government health insurance plans.
2. Protecting Patient Privacy and Confidentiality
Violating a patient’s privacy and confidentiality can have legal and ethical consequences for healthcare providers and professionals. Patients’ medical information is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Topics like increases in data breaches and smartphone usage highlight the ongoing need to understand this ethical issue.
3. Building and Maintaining a Strong Healthcare Workforce
“The U.S. has been dealing with a nursing deficit of varying degrees for decades, but today … this shortage is on the cusp of becoming a crisis, one with worrying implications for patients and health-care providers alike,” according to The Atlantic. An aging population, the rising prevalence of chronic disease and an aging nursing workforce are contributing to the shortage.
If healthcare providers are unable to develop and sustain a strong workforce, patient care will suffer, as the American Association of Colleges of Nursing notes. Yet, accomplishing this in the midst of a nursing shortage is difficult. Nurse retention strategies should become a central focus for all hospitals and healthcare institutions.
4. Marketing Practices
As of 2016, the U.S. healthcare industry was spending almost $30 billion per year in marketing and advertising to consumers, according to The Journal of the American Medical Association. Yet some question the ethics of a healthcare provider spending so much to promote its services or even a specific medicine or technology (whether or not the maker is named). Examples of hospitals getting involved in commercial endorsements for pay have highlighted this issue even more.
An institution can have ethics committees review the facility’s marketing practices to help prevent any missteps. Healthcare professionals should consult with their employer before making testimonials.
5. Care Quality vs. Efficiency
Balancing quality and safety with efficiency is a difficult challenge, which is amplified given the increasing pressure hospitals face to lower the cost of healthcare while improving quality. “It raises a real question about whether the right values are driving our focus in our healthcare system,” Cynda Hylton Rushton, PhD, RN, told AMN Healthcare Briefings. “Should efficiency be the driver?”
The Role of Nursing Leaders
Skilled and knowledgeable nursing leaders can oversee nursing staff members, helping and mentoring them along the way. More leadership in nursing is needed to achieve a higher quality of care and properly respond to major ethical issues.
Alvernia University’s online RN to BSN Completion Program helps nurses enhance their careers and pursue leadership positions. In a flexible and convenient online environment, the programs allow nurses to reach their goals while maintaining their current work and personal schedules.