Ethical issues are a concern in any business, but they are particularly sensitive in the healthcare industry. Unethical practices in healthcare can lead to serious and sometimes life-threatening effects on people. Ethics are stressed in all fields of medical education in order to instill socially accepted, ethical values into students.
Healthcare ethics have been a concern as long as healthcare has been practiced. Ethics in healthcare became prominent in the media in the 1980s and 1990s when Dr. Jack Kevorkian publicized his views on the ethics of euthanasia and assisted in the deaths of more than 100 terminally ill patients. Since this time, the sensitive issue of a patient's right to initiate his own death has been one of the central ethical concerns surrounding healthcare, and particularly, hospice care.
In addition to ethical issues surrounding death, other prominent ethical issues in healthcare practice include a patient's right to information and a patient's right to make choices surrounding her care. Physicians are required to take the Hippocratic Oath upon being awarded a medical degree, which states that they will, "First, do no harm." Physicians and other medical practitioners, such as nurses and physical therapists, are expected to act in the best interests of the patient.
Healthcare ethics represent moral values that are generally regarded as acceptable by society. Certain medical professions, such as physicians, have a code of ethics that is expected to be followed by every member of the industry. Hospitals and large healthcare systems often have a code of ethics that they expect all members of their staff to follow related to the health, safety, and well-being of patients and family members. In general, ethics are a standard of behavior.
Ethics protect patients and their families from mistreatment, abuse, and neglect by members of the healthcare professions. Ethics also set a standard for professionals in the field, and some are regarded as more ethical than others by the general public. For example, in a local community, a physician may have developed a reputation for being slightly unethical due to rumors that have circulated about his conduct. Another physician in the same community may be highly esteemed due to the community's perception of her ethical principles. Physicians that have a habit of being very upfront and honest with patients about their conditions and treatment options, for example, are often touted for their ethics.
Despite a generally consistent set of ethical principles that guide the healthcare community, there are many cases of these principles being breached. In some cases, nurses or other medical professionals lose their license to practice due to violations of acceptable conduct. Patients should consider getting second opinions in cases of serious disease and should try to educate themselves as much as possible on their rights. A patient who knows his rights is in a better position to not be taken advantage of by unethical practitioners.
A common example is a physician who recommends home health services and then automatically sets the patient up with a consultation with his preferred provider within his parent company. A patient well informed of her rights would know that there are multiple providers and that she has the right to choose her own.