“Ethical wisdom” in the context of healthcare simply refers to the philosophy guiding the conduct of operations within the organization on the basis of the principle of always doing what’s right for the patient. Usually set forth in a manual that all new employees are required to review, the ethical code under which a medical institution functions is an extension of the Hippocratic Oath to which physicians pledge. Dating to ancient Greece and attributed the physician Hippocrates, the Hippocratic Oath is often summed up in the adage, “first, do no harm.” More substantively, a contemporary translation of the key passage of the oath is as follows:
“ . . . I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous.”
Ethical wisdom is the sense of doing what’s right that is supposed to be ingrained throughout the medical community. This principle is intended to apply to every facet of the healthcare industry, including billing practices, but is primarily intended to focus on the doctors and nurses who provide the hands-on care for the sick. Ethical wisdom – the establishment of a culture in which adhering to the tenets of the Hippocratic Oath is paramount – helps ensure that decisions regarding the welfare of the patient put that consideration above all others, financial, personal, etc., and to maintain that discipline every day of the year. When important decisions regarding the welfare of seriously ill patients present ethical dilemmas for those who practice medicine, for example, whether to use limited resources on a patient the outcome for whom is pessimistic, then the culture of ethics should dictate the course of action. Similarly, eschewing opportunities to generate extra revenue through the performance of unnecessary diagnostic procedures or by refraining from subjecting a patient to an invasive procedure solely for the benefit of the physician or his or her facility is an important component in medical ethics. Responses to situations that are grounded solely in objective determinations of what is best for the patient – responses that occur automatically and are not the subject of internal discussions regarding more financially attractive options – provide the basis for the development of ethical wisdom within a medical practice.