All decision-making requires negotiation. Decision-makers must weigh various choices and follow the course of action they anticipate will lead to the best outcome for all parties. For today’s leaders in healthcare administration, such negotiations are further complicated by the fact that decisions in the medical field can have immediate life-or-death consequences.

However, even in less dramatic circumstances, doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers must act responsibly. Plus, healthcare administrators hold a great deal of responsibility for ensuring their organizations operate ethically and legally. Reflecting this, the study of ethics in healthcare is an important part of Master of Business Administration (MBA) in healthcare administration programs like the one offered fully online by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

The 4 Principles of Medical Ethics

Whether explaining the medical science behind infant immunizations to concerned parents, managing confidential patient records, supervising a study involving human test subjects, or even overseeing the operations of a billings and collections office, healthcare administrators must make their decisions within a specific ethical framework. The fundaments of medical ethics could be dated back to Hippocrates. But the four principles identified by bioethics scholars Beauchamp and Childress as being integral to any ethical medical practice have been adopted by modern practitioners the world over.

  • Autonomy: Medical personnel must honor a patient’s right to make their own decisions with respect to care and must seek patient consent for treatment.
  • Beneficence: Medical personnel seek to help — to act for the benefit of the patient.
  • Nonmaleficence: Medical personnel are to do no harm to the patients in their care.
  • Justice: Medical personnel are to provide care according to standards of fairness and equity; this principle also entails that medical personnel are to apply objective standards of care to like cases.

While doctors have traditionally sworn to an ethical code of behavior in the form of the Hippocratic Oath, the healthcare industry employs a wide array of other professionals who are expected to demonstrate ethical behavior. According to data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than 15 million Americans worked in healthcare systems as practitioners or in technical and supporting roles as of May 2021. A further 436,770 Americans worked as medical and health services managers that year, the occupational group that includes healthcare administrators.

BLS projects employment in healthcare occupations (practitioners, technical and support personnel) to increase 13% between 2021 and 2031, much faster than the average growth of all occupations. In the same time period, BLS projects employment of medical and health services managers to grow an astounding 28%, making it one of the nation’s 20 fastest growing occupations. This growth, combined with rapid advances in medical technology and a changing legal landscape, has created an environment in which administrators capable of helping healthcare organizations navigate the sizable gray areas between right and wrong find themselves in high demand.

How Do Healthcare Administrators Provide Ethical Leadership?

The American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) is a professional society whose 48,000+ members are committed to principled leadership of hospitals and healthcare systems. In 1993, ACHE drafted one of the earliest formal policy statements regarding Ethical Decision-Making for Healthcare Executives.

This document has undergone several revisions, ensuring current relevance in context of the latest developments in the discipline. As presently worded, the policy statement maintains that “It is incumbent upon healthcare executives to lead in a manner that promotes an ethical culture, affirms the organization’s mission and values, sets expectations and accountabilities, and models ethical behavior for their organizations.”

ACHE notes that while practitioners are concerned primarily with clinical ethics, healthcare executives must address ethical issues “at broader organizational, community and societal levels through a systematic process.” In support of this, ACHE issues several recommendations, including the following:

  • Create a culture that fosters ethical clinical and administrative practices and ethical decision-making, rooted in the organization’s mission and values.
  • Communicate the ethical alignment and underpinning of the organization’s mission or value statements.
  • Demonstrate the commitment to and importance of ethics through setting expectations of professional behavior and modeling ethical decision-making.
  • Provide and promote educational programs and other learning opportunities for stakeholders, staff and community members on the organization’s ethical standards of practice as well as broader issues of ethics in healthcare, such as cultural sensitivity and health equity.
  • Ensure that organizational mechanisms and resources are in place to address both clinical and organizational ethics issues, including competent individuals from a diversity of disciplines and perspectives.
  • Incorporate safeguards against biases and power imbalances in decision-making processes, promoting equity in perspectives and interests.

Healthcare Ethics: The Bottom Line

Healthcare administrators who possess these strong leadership qualities can help their organizations realize practical benefits as well. For instance, through its National Center for Ethics in Health Care (NCEHC), the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has provided “ethics analysis, information, education, advice and support” and led “nationwide quality improvement projects” for over three decades. One component of this was the development of the IntegratedEthics (IE) model of ethics management in VA healthcare facilities and networks.

According to NCEHC’s guide for IE program officers, “Organizational literature tells us that ethics quality correlates with other important indicators of organizational health, including higher patient satisfaction, higher overall staff satisfaction, lower usage of sick leave by staff, lower nursing turnover, and lower number of retirements.” Through implementing the IE model, VA healthcare administrators create a healthy ethical culture that “doesn’t just improve employee morale; it also helps to enhance productivity and improve efficiency.”

Health & Law Ethics is one of four core courses in the healthcare administration MBA concentration offered by the TAMU-CC. With this degree, graduates are qualified to work as medical office and health services managers and as ethically informed administrators within health systems operations. Learn more about how TAMU-CC’s curriculum can prepare you to meet the challenges of a new career in this cutting-edge field.

Learn more about the TAMU-CC online MBA with a Concentration in Healthcare Administration.