Ethics in healthcare: Why trust and integrity are more important than ever

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Written By Berry Mathew

When you work in the public sector, you have the responsibility of maintaining the highest standards of service and performance – after all, people are relying on you to deliver. That’s both pressure and a source of pride, knowing that you can make a difference in the lives of everyone regardless of their age, gender, race or economic status.

This is especially the case in healthcare, where it is of vital importance that the best standards of patient care are delivered. That necessity includes the provision of expert medical diagnosis and treatment, empathetic support for patients and their loved ones and a safe, welcoming environment for individuals to be treated and rehabilitated.

However, the need for excellence in the healthcare sector goes beyond the day-to-day care provided by medical facilities, and there is an ever-increasing demand for such organizations to deliver the highest standard of ethics and principles too, just as all public sector operators should.

Beyond compliance

At the very least, healthcare providers need to comply with the professional and ethical standards detailed by industry regulators, which in the US includes the State Offices of Health Care Quality. In reality, all public sector organizations should look to go beyond mere compliance and deliver a standard of service and care that exceeds expectations rather than simply meeting them.

Key decision-makers within each healthcare setting have the responsibility to ensure their facility is exceeding ethical standards as well. There are factors that can challenge ethics in healthcare, from a lack of resources to a high volume of patients, which have the potential for causing standards to slip. Leaders have the responsibility to ensure that the processes are in place to enable their teams to operate in an ethically sound way, while nurses and other healthcare professionals have a duty to uphold these standards as best, they can.

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This mindset is essential across all aspects of healthcare provision but is particularly essential in deprived areas and those of lower socioeconomic wealth. How can you deliver quality care for a population that may not have the finances to pay for it?

This is an ethical dilemma facing the entire sector, and it’s these kinds of challenges that nurses and other healthcare professionals can enhance their awareness of, while developing the skills needed to deliver ethically-sound care, on an appropriate training program. As such, Baylor University offers a DNP Nurse Practitioner degree for a nurses seeking to innovate and provide top-level care in deprived and culturally-diverse areas, while being handed the knowledge and confidence to implement new treatments for people of all ages — all with the overarching desire to improve patient outcomes in an ethically sound way.

The truth is that the economic crisis that the US is facing will continue to widen the gap between those who have and those who have not, and that will sharpen the focus of delivering quality healthcare to all members of the public, regardless of their personal circumstances. Ethically-sound healthcare goes beyond mere regulatory compliance as it requires understanding, empathy and careful planning.

Setting the standard

Everybody working in a healthcare environment has a responsibility to ensure that the highest standards of ethical care are maintained. However, the onus will ultimately fall upon management figures, such as a director of nursing, and those with heightened responsibilities, such as doctors and nurses, to implement ethics at the heart of a medical facility’s practices. It is these individuals that will have to answer to critics when a setting is accused of not acting in an ethically appropriate manner. Ethics, in essence, identify the difference between right and wrong, in both a tangible way and in the application of sensible moral beliefs.

In a healthcare setting, ethics are at the heart of every interaction between a nurse and patient. Providing appropriate care is a level of trust that the public instinctively expects from their healthcare provider, which is as basic as providing the right course of treatment based upon the patient’s ailments.

However, it goes beyond that. Ethics in healthcare govern the relationships between doctors, nurses and other clinicians with their patients, they ensure the right medical decisions are made quickly in emergency situations, and they make sure that two of the main pillars of ethical healthcare – doing good and minimizing the risk of doing wrong – are adhered to.

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Making the difference

There is no one single way to implement ethics within healthcare, in the same way that no two days are the same for any medical professional. However, there is a uniformity to delivering care that is effective, that respects the wishes of the patient and their families, and that is ‘equitable’ in that it’s appropriate for the individual’s economic circumstances. This latter point is particularly important in deprived areas, and where patients can come from a diverse range of cultural and religious backgrounds. It is vital that nurses and other healthcare professionals are completely honest and transparent when it comes to the costs of care and the different options available. This is a central tenet of ethics in the medical sector.

Patients should be given the autonomy and freedom, where appropriate, to decide on their own course of treatment. The clinician’s job is to discuss the pros and cons of each possible option, both from a personal health and a financial perspective. It should be up to the patient themselves to ultimately decide which path they choose.

This is particularly true in the situation that all healthcare professionals dread: discussions of end-of-life care. This is perhaps the most ethical and emotive scenario that can be faced, and it’s essential that such moments are handled with empathy and responsibility. Doctors and nurses will need to discuss the available options with patients and their loved ones, and of course the decision will need to be made by those directly involved. A healthcare professional should not try to ‘steer’ them in one direction or another. It is these situations where the code of ethics is most crucially implemented. 

The public needs to know they can trust the medical profession to deliver the quality of care required, and questions of ethics are at the very heart of such provision. Emergencies and unforeseen situations can best be dealt with when those involved are ethically minded.