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Legal and Ethical Issues in Medical Practice, Including HIPAA

Medical law plays an important role in medical facility procedures and the way we care for patients. We live in a litigious society, where patients, relatives, and others are inclined to sue health-care practitioners, health-care facilities, manufacturers of medical equipment and products, and others when medical outcomes are not acceptable. It is important for a medical professional to understand medical law, ethics, and protected health information as it pertains to Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). There are two main reasons for medical professionals to study law and ethics: The first is to help you function at the highest professional level by providing competent, compassionate health care to patients and the second is to help you avoid legal problems that can threaten your ability to earn a living.

A knowledge of medical law and ethics can help you gain perspective in the following three areas:

1. The rights, responsibilities, and concerns of health-care consumers. Not only do health-care professionals need to be concerned about how law and ethics impact their respective professions, they must also understand how legal and ethical issues affect patients. As medical technology advances and the use of computers increases, patients want to know more about their options and rights as well as more about the responsibilities of health-care practitioners. Patients want to know who and how their information is used and the options they have regarding health-care treatments. Patients have come to expect favorable outcomes from medical treatment, and when these expectations are not met, lawsuits may result.

2. The legal and ethical issues facing society, patients, and health-care professionals as the world changes.

Every day new technologies emerge with solutions to biological and medical issues. These solutions often involve social issues, and we are faced with decisions, for example, regarding reproductive rights, fetal stem cell research, and confidentiality with sensitive medical records.

3. The impact of rising costs on the laws and ethics of health-care delivery. Rising costs, both of health-care insurance and of medical treatment in general, can lead to questions concerning access to health-care services and the allocation of medical treatment. For example, should everyone, regardless of age or lifestyle, have the same access to scarce medical commodities such as transplant organs or highly expensive drugs.

In today's society, medical treatment and decisions surrounding health care have become complex. It is therefore important to be knowledgeable and aware of the issues and the laws that govern patient care.


  • Medical Law and Ethics
  • The Patient-Physician Contract
  • Preventing Lawsuits
  • Federal Legislation Affecting Health Care
  • OSHA Regulations
  • Quality Control and Assurance
  • Confidentiality Issues and Mandatory Disclosure
  • Code of Ethics
  • Labor and Employment Laws
  • Legal Medical Practice Models

Learning Outcomes

After completing Chapter 3, you will be able to:
 3.1 Define ethics, bioethics, and medical law.
 3.2 Discuss the measures a medical practice must take to avoid malpractice claims.
 3.3 Discuss medical documentation and how it applies to medical law.
 3.4 Discuss the various types of health-care legislation and their impact on medical office practice.
 3.5 Describe Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements for a medical office.
 3.6 Describe procedures for handling an incident of exposure to hazardous materials.
 3.7 Compare and contrast quality control and quality assurance procedures.
 3.8 Discuss the impact that Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations have in the medical office.
 3.9 Explain how to protect patient confidentiality.
 3.10 Describe the different practice management models.


You must carefully follow all state, federal, and individual practice rules and laws while performing your daily duties. You must also follow the AAMA Code of Ethics for medical assistants. It is an important part of your duties to help the doctor avoid malpractice claims—lawsuits by the patient against the physician for errors in diagnosis or treatment.

To perform effectively as a medical assistant, you must maintain an office that follows all OSHA regulations for safety, hazardous equipment, and toxic substances. The office also must meet QC and QA guidelines for all tests, specimens, and treatments. It is your responsibility to follow HIPAA guidelines, to ensure patient privacy and confidentiality of patient records, to fully document patient treatment, and to maintain patient records in an orderly and readily accessible fashion.

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