Administrative Ethical Issues in Health Care

by Andrew Button; Updated September 26, 2017
Hospitals have a legal and ethical duty to care for patients.

Health administration ethics is an important (but often overlooked) subject. Unethical conduct on the part of healthcare administrators can result in legal and reputation costs to the hospital where they work, meaning that ethical behavior is ultimately in the hospital's best interests. Before they can practice ethical behavior, healthcare administrators must know what health ethics is all about.

Organizational Culture

Healthcare ethics starts with organizational culture. If an organizational culture is based on shortcut-taking and cronyism, that culture will ultimately become part of daily life at the hospital. Cronyism exists when administrators put their own interests above those of the organization, and start to see the office as a vehicle for extracting benefits for their friends. If cronyism exists at a hospital, doctors and other professionals may be hired for political reasons rather than for skills, which can result in low-quality service. A generally lazy organizational culture may result in a hospital where, for example, cancer treatment equipment is not maintained properly. This can lead to unnecessary loss of life.

Cost-Cutting Issues

Many hospitals are privately owned business entities. Private hospitals, like all businesses, naturally seek to maximize profits. Cost minimization is a logical corollary of profit maximization: costs minimize profits, and fewer costs mean greater profits. This mentality can lead to problems when taken too far, however. Part of a doctor's job is to do everything within his power to keep patients alive. Because doctors need the best resources available to do this job, hospitals that cut costs by cutting down on budgets for necessary resources are effectively betraying their patients. This behavior is highly unethical.

Treatment of Employees

The treatment of employees at hospitals can become an ethical issue. According to a report by the National Institute of Health, verbal abuse against nurses can be a serious problem. Other healthcare employees, such as receptionists, are often asked to work very long hours for little pay. Doctors, while extremely well compensated, often work "on call," meaning that they are expected to come into work on short notice whenever they are needed. When hospital staff is pushed too far, it becomes an ethical issue for which administration is responsible.

Treatment of Patients

The treatment of patients is not just an issue for doctors and nurses. It is also a concern for healthcare administrators, who set policies on how to deal with patients. Excessively long wait times can become an ethical issue when staff shortages are the result of administrative neglect. Verbal abuse of patients is an ethical issue for staff and administration, as it is partially administration's job to deal with unethical people. Sometimes, administration is ethically and legally responsible for medical malpractice; malpractice resulting from out-of-date equipment, for example, is the fault of administration rather than doctors.

About the Author

Based in St. John's, Canada, Andrew Button has been writing since 2008, covering politics, business and finance. He has contributed to newspapers and online magazines, including "The Evening Telegram" and Button is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Memorial University in St. John's.

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