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Ethics in Health Care Administration

The importance ethics ought to play in how health care services are offered and implemented cannot be overstated. Ethics in health care is traced to the time of Ancient Greece. The Greek physician Hippocrates passed down the medical tradition of the profession regulating itself with a code of acceptable behavior outside of governmental intervention. Hippocrates, author of the Oath of the Physician, today known as the Hippocratic Oath, is still taken by all physicians at the start of their careers.

The role of ethics in medicine is extremely important as the health care industry faces the new opportunities and challenges presented by clinical technological advances. Beginning and end of life ethical issues created by technological progress are dilemmas that health care administrators must address. Health care executives and administrators can preemptively answer ethical quandaries they may face in their institution. This could be achieved through a well-planned ethical judgment process.

Health care organizations can set ethical guidelines by creating a board of advisors to research hypothetical ethical issues and then establish codes of conduct that their health care institution’s employees ought to observe. As part of their research this board of advisors would receive input from employees about the ethical challenges they have faced, the circumstances in which they faced them, and how, in their opinion, these challenges ought to be addressed and, if possible, avoided in the future.

In addition to conducting research and establishing ethical action guidelines, the board of advisors could be in a position to hire clinical ethicists. Theses ethicists ought to have enumerated responsibilities when faced with ethical outcome decisions. Physicians and other healthcare personnel will need to have an understanding of their responsibilities related to that of the clinical ethicists.

Health care administrators ought to assign a role of importance in their organizations to the study of ethics in their rendering of services and medicine. As a significant portion of the national population continues to age, end of life ethical issues will continue to occupy greater importance in the operation and implementation of health care services. Physician-assisted suicide, life support termination, and other issues will continue to be of concern to health care administrators at all levels of clinical and nonclinical management. Governmental regulation will also be involved, and health care organizations will need to utilize their resources to educate their clinical ethicists and make them cognizant of all legal restrictions and procedures. Although many of the future decisions of health care administrators are varied and uncertain, assigning a role of importance to the knowledge of ethics can help reduce those uncertainties.

Paul Westerman is a member of the Chicago Health Executives Forum Education and Networking Committee and is the Medical Education Coordinator for Aurora Health Care in the Lake Geneva Area. He can be contacted at

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