If you’re starting your own medical practice, you may encounter some situations you don’t yet know how to deal with. Not every situation is straightforward, yet it’s important to stick to a code of ethics when dealing with patients. Here’s your guide to navigating an ethical dilemma in healthcare.
When starting your own practice, you have hundreds of minuscule things to deal with. In a sea of details, sometimes you forget that one ethics course you took in school.
Even with a course or two in ethics, it’s hard to internalize theory and readings from old dusty textbooks. You aren’t forced to relive that information until you’re faced with an ethical dilemma in the workplace. An ethical dilemma in healthcare is not typically black and white, and require some serious thought.
Whether the issue is cultural, personal, or otherwise, you should have a plan going into your practice to understand how you’ll handle ethical dilemmas. Here’s a guide to preparing for ethical dilemmas in your practice.
AMA’s Code of Medical Ethics
The American Medical Association provides a code of ethics for medical professionals to follow. This sets guidelines for doctor-patient relationships, and abides by the laws.
These guidelines are set in an effort to paint a picture of an honorable medical practitioner. In other words, not all guidelines, if broken, are punishable by law, but they do provide an ethical path to follow.
In essence, these rules generally state the following things. As a practitioner, you should be dedicated to serving your patients in a way that exemplifies compassion and respect. You should also do whatever possible to enforce the ideas of human rights and dignity.
You should also be honest in all of your professional situations. This means that if a colleague or partner is acting unethically, you should report that situation to the authorities. The practice and well-being of patients is, above all, the most important aspect of your job.
Additionally, you are obligated to seek a change in legislation if the requirements and laws surrounding your practice are not those which provide the best experience for the patient.
The AMA Code of Ethics has been a living document since the late 1800s, and is likely to change continuously as advances in medical technology and ethical ideas progress. This is going to be your bible if you have an ethical dilemma in healthcare
The code states that, as a physician, you should strive to maintain your understanding of current ethical guidelines. This means continuing ethical and professional education in the form of courses and seminars as the profession advances.
Acting in the best interest of the patient also means that you put your pride down when you need to. If there’s a procedure that you aren’t trained for or don’t feel comfortable performing, it’s essential that you use the talents of your colleagues who could perform the task better.
In the spirit of patient well-being, you should also make a dedication to serving your community and improving public health. This also means supporting access to medical help for all people, regardless of external factors such as race, religion, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity.
Understand Your Ethical Values
There are a number of things that the Code of Ethics doesn’t discuss, and there are a number of issues that will depend primarily on your values. You will be making decisions quickly without time to consider pros and cons before acting, so internalizing and understanding your values is of the utmost importance.
You will not be able to effortlessly handle every situation, however. Some ethical dilemmas may require you to take time to contemplate. Don’t let pride force you into making an unruly decision in these cases.
Take all the time necessary to making a just, ethical decision before you put a patient, or your practice, at risk. Understanding your own limits and ethical beliefs will serve you in the long run of your practice.
It’s also crucial for all medical professionals to understand the specific guidelines and ethical requirements set forth by their profession’s professional organizations.
Most disciplines produce different ethical dilemmas, requiring different ethical codes. Make sure to keep up to date on the dilemmas and guidelines stated by the authorities in your profession.
Understand Both Sides
One surefire way to address interpersonal issues between you and clients is to address them as they arise. This means speaking to your patients about what you believe to be in their best interest, even if you know that they will not agree.
In the same vein, there may be some cultural or religious attitudes that prevent your patients from accepting care. The book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down is currently required reading for many medical professionals.
It details the story of a Hmong American family that experienced cultural difficulties with the American medical system.
Their struggles resulted in the paralyzation of a young girl, something which cannot be taken back or mended. The aspect of communication in these situations can’t be underestimated, especially in cases when your patient doesn’t speak the language.
In situations where cultural difficulties may get in the way of quality care for the patient, the most essential thing that you can do is ensure that they understand the totality of the situation.
Whether this means that you need to find a translator or do research to understand their perspective, it is a must that you come to an understanding.
Be Sensitive to Power
A patient enters a physicians office in a state of vulnerability. Not only are they ill, or requiring some kind of professional service, but in most cases, they have a very limited knowledge of what is going to be done to them.
This puts the physician in a role of power. Additionally, doctors have a coveted position in society which promotes respect and admiration. Because of this reputation, the word of a doctor is often taken as the supreme authority. Read more here if you’re looking for guidance in professionalism in the workplace.
With that responsibility in mind, be sure to act in complete honesty in efforts to provide exceptional care for your patients. This entails having them understand everything about procedures and operations, asking them if they have a clear understanding of the situation at hand, and being forthright with any complications that arise.
Know What to Do When Problems Arise
If you’re running a business, you may be forced with a situation which requires you to discipline an employee for unethical behavior.
That will inevitably involve paperwork. It can be a time-consuming process to deal with an ethical dilemma in healthcare. If you’re in need of assistance with business related questions, contact us and be confident that we have the answers for you.