Healthcare professionals constantly navigate their way through a maze of ethical and legal rules and regulations that govern the profession. This profession is one with some of the most legal scrutiny and the strongest ethical guidelines. Healthcare requires this type of oversight, not only because the very lives of people are at stake, but also because of the vulnerability of many of the people being cared for within the industry.
The legal issue that healthcare professionals have to concern themselves with most is malpractice. This is why all healthcare offices and professionals carry some type of malpractice insurance. Everyone makes mistakes. However, when a doctor, healthcare professional, hospital or other organization devoted to patient care makes a mistake, it potentially impacts the health, safety or finances of a patient. When this happens, liability exists which can result in a lawsuit being filed against the healthcare professional.
Hospitals and professionals across the healthcare industry are required by law to protect the privacy of their patients. Patients need to provide a great deal of information in order to get healthcare, and much private information about a patient is gathered within a clinic or hospital, such as test results or treatment plans. HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, is a federal regulation that requires healthcare professionals to take all reasonable measures to make sure that patient information is only viewed by those with proper authority and access.
This is an ethical concern that has legal implications. Confidentiality is linked to patient privacy, but has to do more with the conduct of the healthcare professional than with documentation. Both ethically and legally, healthcare professionals are prohibited from sharing information about patients with other people. Patients expect that they can speak to healthcare professionals in confidence, and both legal and ethical guidelines exist to preserve that confidentiality.
Every part of the ethical system taught in healthcare education can be traced to the oath that doctors take when entering the profession. The Hippocratic oath includes issues of patient privacy, but ultimately requires that doctors do everything possible to avoid causing harm and to preserve the health of their patients in all ways possible. The system of ethics surrounding healthcare is based entirely on the notion of preserving patient health. For instance, it is considered unethical for physicians to provide care to family members. This is because a physician could have difficulty being objective when providing care to a relative, which could ultimately jeopardize that patient's safety.
Medical ethics is such a complex issue that there are scholars who specialize in nothing besides the study of healthcare ethics. Ethics in this field not only applies to the practice of healthcare, but also to its further development through research and in the development of new fields of study. In addition, most healthcare professionals have specific ethical guidelines set down by their governing organizations which they are both expected and required to follow. Most medical specialties also have their own detailed ethical codes that govern practitioners.