All decision-making requires negotiation. Decision-makers must weigh various choices and follow the course of action that 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.

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. Tom Beauchamp and James Childress are leading scholars in medical ethics (or bioethics), and the four principles they have identified as being integral to any ethical medical practice have been adopted by practitioners the world over.

  1. Autonomy: Medical personnel must honor a patient’s right to make his or her own decisions with respect to care and must seek patient consent for treatment.
  2. Beneficence: Medical personnel seek to help — to act for the benefit of the patient.
  3. Nonmaleficence: Medical personnel are to do no harm to the patients in their care.
  4. Justice: Medical personnel are to provide care according to standards of fairness and equanimity; 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 the most recent statistics collected by the United States Department of Labor, nearly 12 million Americans work as healthcare providers or serve healthcare providers in some supporting role. For 2016, the industry added 374,000 new jobs. 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 40,000 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 administrators. This document has undergone several revisions in order to remain abreast of the latest developments in the discipline. As presently worded, it issues several recommendations to “Create a culture that fosters ethical clinical and administrative practices and ethical decision-making.”

  • Communicate the organization’s commitment to ethical decision-making through its mission or value statements and its organizational code of ethics.
  • Demonstrate through their professional behavior the importance of ethics to the organization.
  • Offer educational programs to boards, staff, physicians and others on their organization’s ethical standards of practice and on the more global issues of ethical decision-making in today’s healthcare environment.
  • Ensure that the organizational resources addressing ethics issues are readily available and include individuals who are competent to address ethical concerns and reflect diverse perspectives.
  • Ensure that ethics resources are competent to address a broad range of ethical concerns, e.g., clinical, organizational, business and management.

Healthcare Ethics: The Bottom Line

Healthcare administrators who possess these strong leadership qualities can help their organizations realize practical benefits as well. Through its National Center for Ethics in Health Care, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs has sponsored “ethics analysis, information, education, advice, and support” and led “nationwide quality improvement projects” for over 25 years. In a survey of current bioethical research, the Center found that failure to resolve ethical conflicts or uphold ethical standards can result in “errors or unnecessary and potentially costly decisions that can be bad for patients, staff, the organization, and society at large.” Further, “Organizations that support doing the right thing, doing it well, and doing it for the right reasons tend to outperform other organizations in terms of such measures as customer satisfaction and employee retention.” In summary, “Ethics and quality care can never truly be separated.”

HCAD 5330 – Health Law & Ethics is one of four core courses in the Healthcare Administration Concentration offered by the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi online MBA program. 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 TAMUCC’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.


BioMed Central: Measuring the Four Principles of Beauchamp and Childress

American College of Healthcare Executives: Ethical Decision Making for Healthcare Executives

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Integrated Ethics

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: National Center for Ethics in Health Care

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: May 2016 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates