3 Ethical Dilemmas Physicians Face (And Solutions)

Throughout all sectors of healthcare, ethical issues arise. A few of the dilemmas providers face include choosing the right patients, ordering correct treatments, and dealing with other healthcare providers who are practicing unethically. Ethical issues aren’t solved quickly without support. This article will explore the types of ethical questions that might affect providers as well as patients, and how to navigate them within the workplace. 

Patient Ethical Concerns 

Patients have the right to come and go to the hospital as they please. They also have a choice in the care they receive or refuse, even if the treatment has their best interest in mind. Medical professionals struggle with some of these issues because the patient’s choices may go against everything learned in medical or nursing school. 

One of the most significant ethical dilemmas deals with end of life care. The decisions made by patients may challenge the providers religious and moral beliefs or professional guidelines. 

Frequents questions about end of life care include: 

  • When should life-sustaining measures, like a mechanical ventilator and/or feeding tubes, begin and end? 
  • What should happen if a patient refuses a medically necessary treatment (like a blood transfusion or surgery)? 
  • What if the patient is unable to communicate their needs and wants? 

Solutions for Patient Ethical Issues 

As a medical provider for someone who is refusing necessary care, it can be challenging. Medical professionals struggle with how to approach the patient when ethical issues like this arise. 

Try to: 

  1. Step back and listen. Ask the patient to voice their feelings openly and honestly.  
  2. Provide necessary education. After listening, it’s important to make sure the patient knows their options and why your stance on the issue differs from theirs. It’s important to not “defend” yourself, but to try to understand why they are refusing care. 
  3. Talk to an ethical team. Hospitals have ethical teams that discuss these issues from a non-biased viewpoint and attempt to find a solution. These committees are usually made up of people from different backgrounds and disciplines. 

Patients have choices, and medical professionals must honor their wishes. After a decision is made, it’s the duty of the medical professional to respect it, even if they don’t agree. 

Ethical Issues for Physicians 

Physicians have ethical issues that are unique to their profession. A few of these issues include the right to decline treating a patient and providing professional care. 

Cherry picking and Lemon Dropping 

Physicians can choose who they want to care for, otherwise known as “cherry picking” or “lemon dropping.” This is a valid ethical concern. Many people feel that all humans deserve care from the provider of their choice and that physicians should deliver that care without judgment. 

  • Should physicians have a choice in who they can treat? 

The answer depends on which side of the argument you believe. Physicians do get to have that choice for their practice, but the general population may not agree that physicians should be able to choose. There are no guidelines that go with handling the dilemma for the physician, but healthcare business consultant, Keith Borglum says, “go with your gut.” 

Potential Medical Malpractice 

Ethical issues may arise with coworkers if one physician disagrees with the care plan initiated by another physician. Physicians and other healthcare providers must report such matters. This can be an uncomfortable situation, but morally – it’s the right thing to do. 

Take a second to think about your own ethical beliefs. Do you have concerns about end of life care? Do you think physicians should be able to choose patients? Would you report wrongdoing by a colleague? 

Ethical concerns are challenging because medical professionals want to do the right thing all of the time, but barriers like religion or personal beliefs can get in the way. Remember to use your healthcare ethical team in times of need to come to a solution in ethical situations.  

Janine Kelbach, RNC-OB is a freelance writer and owner of WriteRN.net.

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