Ethics And Bioethics For Medical Assistants

It is impossible in today's world to function as a medical assistant without an awareness of the impact of ethics and bioethics on health care. Just as an understanding of the law and working within the law is vital information for the medical assistant, it is equally important to understand ethics and bioethics. From the previous blogposts, you have come to realize that there are many circumstances and situations that occur in health care that are guided and directed by state and federal laws. You, personally, are expected to be above reproach in all your actions in this regard.

You must also work with your employer and other members of the health care team to assure that each member of the staff functions within the law protecting both patients and providers. Ethics plays a huge role in such an endeavor. To function ethically demands that you never function outside the law. Ethics, however, demands something  calls for honesty, trustworthiness, integrity, confidentiality, and fairness. To function ethically, you must know yourself well and understand weaknesses and any vulnerabilities that might prevent you from acting ethically.

On occasion, ethical dilemmas occur because patients are unsure of the role of the medical assistant. For example, the medical assistants of Inner City Health Care are truly multidisciplinary and have a range of administrative and clinical skills. However, patients sometimes think of them as nurses who have an entirely different set of skills. While most of the medical assistants gently correct patients and make it a point to practice only within their area of expertise, occasionally newer members of the medical assistant staff may feel more "important" when patients regard them as nurses or physicians' assistants. This is just one situation in which medical assistants may need to reflect on their actions and be sure that they are acting ethically and within the range of their skills. Medical assistants also need to recognize the warning signs that they, or some other staff member, may be about to breach a code of ethics. Often, this kind of breach occurs when one has, or seeks to have, too much power; when one attempts to take too much authority; and when one has too little knowledge and experience. When a breach seems about to occur, the individuals involved should be encouraged to step back and review their actions and the likely consequences of those actions.

Traditionally, ethics has been defined in terms of what is right or wrong. For health care professionals, ethics is often defined by a code or creed as seen in the Code of Ethics from the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) or the Principles of Medical Ethics from the American Medical Association (AMA). While these codes, and many others like them, are essential and very helpful, they lose their vitality unless they are understood by individuals who possess a personal and sound moral code or set of values. Unlike the law, which seldom changes unless challenged and examined in the courts, codes of ethics constantly change and evolve just as personal values and morals change and evolve. Every time values are challenged and examined, a medical assistant's personal ethical codes become stronger, the understanding of others' perceptions becomes clearer, and professionalism is enhanced.


Bioethics brings the entire focus of ethics into the field of health care and into those ethical issues dealing with life. Never before in the history of medical care has bioethics been such a topic of concern. In the past, most bioethical decisions were made by physicians and esteemed members of the medical and/or legal profession. However, advancing technology giving patients and consumers numerous choices regarding their health care causes each one of medical assistants to take an active role in bioethics.