Ethics Using the Code

All ACHE members agree, as a condition of membership, to abide by ACHE's Code of Ethics. But sometimes the practical applications of the Code are not immediately obvious. Following is some additional information about the Code as well as some suggestions for how you can make the best use of the Code in your daily decisions and actions.

Background and Purpose

ACHE established its first Code of Ethics in 1941 and since that time has periodically reviewed and revised the document. In 2010, a survey of ACHE members on ethical issues regarding the Code indicated that it provides guidance in their work and the decisions they make. The latest version of the Code was adopted by the Board of Governors in 2011. ACHE believes that the Code is so integral to the practice of healthcare management that every individual who joins ACHE must agree to uphold the Code.

The stated purpose of the Code of Ethics is to serve as a standard of conduct for all members. Accordingly, it contains standards of ethical behavior for healthcare executives in their professional relationships. These include relationships with patients, colleagues, or others served; members of the healthcare executive's organization and other organizations; the community; and society as a whole. The Code also incorporates standards of ethical behavior governing individual behavior, particularly when that conduct directly relates to the role and identity of the healthcare executive.

The Code and Today's Healthcare Executives

ACHE's Code of Ethics was never intended to convey vague concepts or expectations beyond the capacity of today's healthcare leaders. Rather, it was written to provide practical standards to guide the thinking and actions of executives when confronted with wide-ranging ethical conflicts. To strengthen the transfer of ethics to practice, the Code can be used in the following ways:

  • The Code serves as a standard for the healthcare executive's behavior. Each year ACHE surveys its members on their needs, and the results consistently indicate that the Code is frequently used to provide “self-guidance” when confronted with ethical challenges.
  • The Code can serve as a basis for the development of an organization's administrative and management policy and procedures. Many ethical questions are recurring in nature, suggesting the need for development of an organizational ethical standard of behavior. The Code, along with ACHE's Ethical Policy Statements, is a practical and useful source for developing an organization's policy and procedures.
  • The Code can be built into performance standards and measures for executives and management staff. Because ethics is an essential component to healthcare organizations, specific ethical behaviors outlined in the Code can be used to help the management team identify responsibilities, set expectations for behavior, and determine opportunities for growth and development.
  • The Code provides guidelines for ethical decision making when there is uncertainty. When confronted with organizational ethical questions, the Code can serve as a helpful resource because of its scope and depth. In response to an organizational ethical conflict, the Code—along with the organization's mission and values statement—fosters ethical reflection. Many respondents to the survey indicated that the Code provided guidance for their staff, as well as for creating and reviewing their organization's code.
  • The Code serves as a teaching tool for colleagues and students. Whether formally, such as in the classroom setting, or informally through observation, many healthcare leaders function as educators. Healthcare executives can share the Code with their colleagues and students to foster ethical awareness. The Code can also be used as a mentoring tool, helping early careerists understand the importance of ethical decision making and enhancing their ethical awareness and decision-making skills.

Healthcare Executives as Moral Advocates and Models

As noted in the Code's preamble, healthcare executives have an obligation to act in ways that will merit the trust, confidence, and respect of other healthcare professionals and the general public. Therefore, healthcare executives should lead lives that embody an exemplary system of values and ethics.

But the ethical responsibilities of healthcare executives go beyond their own lives—in fulfilling their commitments and obligations to patients and others, healthcare executives function as moral advocates. Since every management decision affects the health and well-being of both individuals and communities, healthcare executives must carefully evaluate the possible outcomes of their decisions. They must work to safeguard and foster the rights, interests, and prerogatives of patients or others served.

Healthcare executives are also models of ethical behavior—for patients, colleagues, protégés, clinicians, and others involved in the process of delivering healthcare. Therefore, it is important that their actions reflect personal integrity and ethical leadership that others will seek to emulate.

It is the hope and intent of ACHE that the Code of Ethics not only will guide the individual healthcare executive's behavior, but will be an important part of his or her obligation to serve as an ethical advocate and model for the field as a whole.

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