Health Information Management Ethical Challenges

Health information management (HIM) is a career dedicated to keeping patient records secure and private. Work of this nature requires a strong sense of ethics. But what are ethics? The Oxford English Dictionary defines ethics as moral principles that determine how a person behaves or conducts an activity.

Although being an ethical person can help in your pursuit of becoming a HIM professional, there is a unique code of ethics surrounding the health information services field that you must learn.

Is there a HIM Code of Ethics?

The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) provides HIM professionals with a code of ethics. They monitor and revise it to keep the code as current as possible. The newest revision was made in 2011. Although it is the only code specific to the HIM field, it is optional.

Keep in mind that organizations who do not adopt the AHIMA code of ethics will have their own code of ethics in place. You should always anticipate learning and accepting the code of ethics that an organization has established before beginning you employment with them. Being tasked with learning more information can be frustrating, but try not to look at it as a burden. An ethical code is usually created to help you, not hurt you.

What are HIM Ethics?

The code of ethics that you will follow as a HIM professional aims to promote a higher level of responsibility in the knowledge you have and choices you make. It is a guideline that can help you through decisions that may cause moral dilemmas.

It is important to know that no code of ethics will ever tell you exactly what to do in a situation. Rather they function as a general guide that can be applied to the way you work as a HIM professional.

For example, as an HIM you are in charge of keeping patient records safe. That means making sure the right people have access to them. Imagine that you’re working as an HIM and someone calls to request a patient’s file. They tell you their name and say that they are a relative of the patient. Just because they say they are related should you give them the patient’s information? Probably not. Another example might revolve around social media in healthcare. What’s acceptable in the workplace when it comes to patient and employee privacy? As a health information manager or technician, you’ll have access to computers and the Internet. Using common sense and protecting your workplace and patient clients is critical.

Although a HIM code of ethics will never tell you exactly what to do, being familiar with it can help guide you through tricky situations.

What is the purpose of HIM Ethics?

AHIMA defines seven key aspects of HIM ethics:

  1. Promotes high standards of HIM practice.
  2. Identifies core values on which the HIM mission is based.
  3. Summarizes broad ethical principles that reflect the profession’s core values.
  4. Establishes a set of ethical principles to be used to guide decision-making and actions.
  5. Establishes a framework for professional behavior and responsibilities when professional obligations conflict or ethical uncertainties arise.
  6. Provides ethical principles by which the general public can hold the HIM professional accountable.
  7. Mentors practitioners new to the field to HIM’s mission, values, and ethical principles.

When should HIM Ethics be Applied?

As soon as you walk into the healthcare facility that you work at as a HIM, you should be applying your ethical code. Not every situation will require a complex moral decision. Many will be very straightforward.

However, there wouldn’t be an established code of ethics if there wasn’t a need for one. Any time you are unsure of how to handle a work problem that is centered on ethics, you should be able to use your knowledge of HIM ethics to address it.

Will I learn about HIM Ethics while Earning an Education or Certificate?

Most HIM programs will offer a class that focuses on ethical guidelines. Although we have been primarily discussing the AHIMA code of ethics, the program you join will probably not offer an ethics class that teaches the AHIMA code of ethics specifically.

As a HIM student, you can expect to learn a broad range of ethical responsibilities and how they relate to a career in HIM. Your course curriculum will usually refer to an ethics class as exactly that: Ethical Aspects of Health Information. But sometimes it may appear under the title of Fundamentals of Law for HIM. Although this course may be slightly different from just an ethics class, it will have many similarities and serve the same function.


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