Because health care deals with both life overall as well as the quality of one’s life, ethical issues are sure to arise. Patients often struggle to know which treatment they should opt for and who they should tell about their health care crises. Even more difficult is the ethical dilemmas that health care providers face. The struggle to keep patient confidentiality high while still getting informed consent and advocating for a patient’s best interests is often great. While the laws regarding medicine may seem straightforward, the decisions that health care workers must make are often shaded and less black-and-white than one would think. Here are some of the top concerns that health care workers face in their jobs.
Providing Life-Sustaining Treatments
Some family members have a hard time accepting that their loved one is at the end of his life, but it can be equally difficult for health care workers to come to terms with the family members’ decision. When you know that life-sustaining treatments are not providing any help, you may wonder what you should do.
Some doctors prescribe placebos to patients who request them simply to give the patient peace of mind or to stop him from coming back to the facility. As a health care worker, you must consider what is best for the patient and most ethical in the specific situation.
While patient privacy is fairly well defined in the law, some scenarios can seem positively murky. For example, what would you do if you knew that your patient was HIV-positive, but his partner did not yet know and the patient had no plans to tell the partner? What would you do if your patient’s diagnosis was going to result in harm to another person?
As with all areas of life, mistakes are virtually a given in health care no matter how hard you try to provide perfect care at all times. However, revealing a mistake may sometimes result in a lawsuit or a very angry patient at the very least. At what point should you reveal the mistake that you have made to a doctor, a supervisor or the patient?
Protecting Patient Privacy
Your patient’s personal information is considered private and is protected by law. However, you may occasionally feel the need to vent to coworkers, family or friends. How much and what type of information can you share so that you can feel better?
While many of the above scenarios do not always have obvious answers, it is important that you think these and similar concerns through before they come up in your practice. When you are faced with a dilemma from a flesh-and-blood patient, you may feel completely different than you do when reading about it in an article.
Over the next decade, these ethical dilemmas are sure to change and shift as new treatments are developed and laws change. Things that are considered legal today may not be seen in the same light next year and vice versa. While managers and clinical leaders are typically at the front lines of these dilemmas, every health care worker must have an innate understanding of basic social ethics as well as personal morality and ethics to be able to work with joy, confidence and compassion.