I've been in health care for almost 50 years -- as psychiatrist, medical director, teacher/researcher, consultant, leader of the ethics program at a not-for-profit health plan, and patient. I'm a clinical professor in the departments of Population Medicine and Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. With colleagues I've written two books about health system ethics: "Setting Limits Fairly: Learning to Share Resources for Health," and "No Margin, No Mission: Health-Care Organizations and the Quest for Ethical Excellence." I've had my Medicare card since 2004.
Medical ethics has traditionally focused on the individual patient, the individual doctor, and the patient-doctor relationship. But today most care occurs in organizational settings – group practices, HMOs, VA and more. Insurers and other third parties have a huge influence on the exam room. Medicare shapes care for the elderly and disabled. Medicaid does the same for the poor. Hospital cultures and policies affect what sick patients experience, for both better and worse.
All this means that the ethical quality of health care is profoundly influenced by the ethics of organizations. We can’t have ethical health care without ethical organizations.
Organizational ethics is what this blog is all about. I discuss how organizations engage with the ethical dimensions of their work. I look for approaches we can learn from, not simply to wring my hands and rant. I hope the blog stimulates discussion and debate, and encourage readers to present their own perspectives and suggest topics for postings.