If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right. Business ethics is crucial in the healthcare sector and each individual has to take responsibility.
Business ethics is not new. It has several dimensions, from legal to behavioural and from marketing to business. Much of the focus has also been on consumer perception and the cross-cultural dimension.
Growing pressure from stakeholders and advocacy groups means companies – and especially those operating in sensitive industries like healthcare – are subject to increasing demands for full transparency and must therefore operate to the very highest ethical standards. This involves the strict enforcement of internal codes of conduct.
Companies are faced with moral, ethical and legal dilemmas, particularly when operating in multiple countries. What is considered unethical or even unlawful in one country may well be local custom or normal business behaviour in another.
Companies often deal with this paradox by establishing global practices. A gift policy is a typical example. Applying the same behavioural rules in the Middle East and Germany, for example, might have a short-term negative impact on business. But it can also bring long-term revenue integrity and ultimately protect a company’s reputation.
The lesson is that we can’t talk about local differences in business practices. We live in a world in which an action in any place can have global consequences. And that applies to healthcare companies as much as any other: patients require the same standards at home as abroad.
A culture of trust
The reason this is so important in the healthcare industry is that trust is at the heart of the relationship between the companies and patients. Patients need to trust their doctors. Doctors need to trust their peers and healthcare companies. Healthcare companies need to trust scientific researchers. With growing patient empowerment, patients need also to trust healthcare providers and healthcare companies.
The role of a corporate legal and compliance department in this process is crucial. It is not about imposing the rules: it is about creating an enabling environment within the company. Ethical behaviour, based on common values, needs to be embedded deep into the corporate culture. We as legal and compliance departments need to be trusted partners, advising managers and professionals.
Each individual also needs to take responsibility for ethics. Beyond the standards and frameworks each company sets, the guiding behavioural principle has to be gut feeling: if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right.