Conflicting rationales: leader's experienced ethical challenges in community health care for older people

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Ethical challenges arise in all types of care, and leaders need to be aware of how to resolve these challenges. Healthcare systems tend to be organised around medical conditions, and the patient is often faced with a series of uncoordinated visits to multiple specialties. Ideally, care should be organised around the patient's needs.


The purpose of this article was to highlight some ethical challenges perceived by leaders with responsibility for management and service distribution, finance and ensuring quality of community health services for older people.


This study had a qualitative design with a qualitative content analysis of one focus group with six leaders that met four times in total. Leaders from the community healthcare sector in one Norwegian municipality were included, representing both nursing homes and home-based health care. The study followed the intentions of the Declaration of Helsinki and standard ethical principles. The Norwegian Social Science Data Services approved the study. All participants voluntarily gave written informed consent.


The main theme that emerged from this study was the ethical challenge leaders felt in the form of an inherent conflict between a caring rationale versus economic or technological rationales. Four categories emerged: (i) Management: quality versus economy; (ii) Prioritisation: fair distribution of healthcare services; (iii) Responsibility: considering individuals' needs versus the needs of the whole community; and (iv) Welfare technology: possibilities and challenges.


Leaders' responsibilities in community health care for older people need to strike a balance between ethical principles in the management of limited resources.

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