Navigating the modern healthcare system is complicated. Every decision is important, and every worker bears the burden to help follow guidelines and make improvements in the field. Regardless of the fact that healthcare workers are burning out at unprecedented rates, the issues surrounding ethical questions in the healthcare industry continue to be at the forefront of medical experts nationwide.
High standards in ethics are and will continue to be absolutely necessary in the healthcare field. To improve confidence in the system and help individuals receive the best care possible, certain topics should be considered among healthcare workers.
One of the top challenges to the healthcare system is making care accessible to all people. Within that challenge is the problem of limited appointment availability for working adults or parents. Patients need more flexible hours as their lives become increasingly busy. Finding a way to offer care outside of work or school schedules has proven to be a challenge the current healthcare system hasn’t yet found a way around.
According to the USDA in 2020, about 46 million Americans life in rural areas; that’s 14% of the population. As a result, they often face a shortage of doctors, creating a barrier to appropriate and adequate healthcare. The problem is that they either are too far away from the nearest clinic or the clinic they do have doesn’t have enough clinicians. Finding a way to provide healthcare to those who live in more rural areas has been helped with remote visits, but that solution has not solved the entire issue.
Helping patients find ways to access healthcare is an issue of ethics that appears to be something those entering the healthcare field will have to tackle for the foreseeable future.
Care Quality & Efficiency
Another ethical dilemma modern healthcare workers are facing is balancing the quality of care that patients receive with the efficiency needed in an already overwhelmed field. Figuring out how to treat patients as individuals, not just a name on a long list, is a challenge that runs deep in the hearts of care providers who entered the field in order to help people and make a difference in their lives.
Wait time is difficult for patients, especially when they sit for long periods of time wondering why they were scheduled at one time when they could have come later in the day. It’s hard for patients to understand that appointments often overlap, and issues arise within the office that are unforeseen.
Innovative software and an expansion of clinic hours can help alleviate some of the pressure for healthcare workers by reducing the administrative aspects of the job that create time-constraints. Staff can work more efficiently if some of the functions of their job are reduced, allowing the time that healthcare workers need to get to know their patients and providing the one-on-one attention patients need in order to feel they have been heard and seen during treatment.
The top ongoing ethical issue facing medical professionals today is patient confidentiality. In a modern world where records are kept electronically and everyone has social media platforms to air their grievances, this issue continues to be at the forefront of complexity and concern.
Even though violations in HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) can lead to a healthcare workers suspension or termination, the ease of access to talk about their patients on social media continues to be a draw for some healthcare workers. In the modern technological age, more direct guidelines need to be developed to make clear the boundaries that should never be crossed. Experts need to determine if it’s okay to “sound off” about a patient if the patient’s name is not used. Is it okay to make fun of patients’ phobias or quirks as long as they don’t reference where they work or who they are talking about? What is the likelihood that a viral video will make it back to the patient, harming their self-worth and confidence in the healthcare system?
Because of the complexity and worldwide stretch of today’s media, it is the ethical responsibility of healthcare experts to re-evaluate how they view the confidentiality of their patients under the lens of social media.
Malpractice & Negligence
Medical malpractice and negligence issues will always be part of the conversation when taking a look at the ethical issues in the healthcare system. Healthcare professionals have received training, but they are human beings capable of making mistakes. The two, though often categorized together, are separate issues.
Malpractice is when a medical professional, such as a doctor or nurse, fail to follow a certain standard of practice. They might fail to monitor vitals appropriately, leading to malpractice. This is when they provider know what they should do, but they still do the wrong thing when treating their patient.
Negligence is a mistake. When the healthcare professional is in a hurry or is bogged down with patients, they – as human beings – can make mistakes just like everyone else. In this case, they might miss things when diagnosing or treating their patients. This type of mistake is considered negligence.
With modern medical records kept online, patients often notice that “systems are down” or the database doesn’t properly update or transfer information from one system to another. These technical issues have an impact on whether or not doctors and nurses can appropriately treat their patients. Because of the long- and short-term consequences of these technical issues on medical malpractice and negligence cases, this is a serious issue that needs to be addressed for modern healthcare practitioners.
Response to Pandemics & Widespread Medical Emergencies
Disasters occur and are a part of the human experience. Healthcare professionals are often on the frontlines of many of the types of disasters the world experiences. As anyone can attest to, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare system was strapped and stressed to its limits.
Public health emergency preparedness is an important topic when considering modern ethical concerns. The global pandemic certainly made that apparent. Moving forward, figuring out how to properly disseminate treatment and provide access to care to those who most need it will be under scrutiny.