What Is Unethical Conduct in a Medical Practice?

A common reason for a malpractice lawsuit against a medical practice is unethical conduct from the clinic or a staff member. Below, we explain some of the most significant ethical breaches that can occur in medical practice.

Confidentiality Breach

Confidentiality is a significant concern for patients, so any breach of that confidentiality by a doctor or clinic is a serious form of unethical conduct. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) strictly prohibits the disclosure of sensitive health information without the patient’s consent.

Disclosing sensitive health information can sometimes occur accidentally, but it’s still a significant ethics violation that could expose the doctor and clinic legally.


Discriminatory behavior is obviously a major unethical conduct in medical practice—whether it’s discrimination of a patient’s gender, race, sexual orientation, or other protected category. Discrimination in health care can come in many forms, from doctors selectively choosing the patients they want to treat to being dismissive about specific gender issues.

Discriminatory conduct can also come in the form of verbal abuse if a doctor or clinic staff is inappropriate or abusive to a patient based on race, gender, or other criteria. This conduct is why diversity training and seminars can be valuable resources for clinics to avoid malpractice and discrimination lawsuits.

Covering Up a Mistake

Sometimes in medical practice, it’s not the mistake but the actions of the doctor and clinic afterward that are unethical. We’re all human, and we make mistakes. Still, if a doctor/clinic is deceitful about that mistake and withholds information from the patient regarding their medical condition, that’s a severe ethical and legal breach.

Patients have a legal and ethical right to information about their medical conditions—mistakes and all. If a patient later learns that a previous doctor/clinic made a mistake in their treatment and covered it up, they would have a strong case for malpractice and violation of informed consent.

Deceptive Billing Practices

An, unfortunately, all too common ethical breach in the health-care industry has little to do with doctors and patients and revolves around billing practices. The insurance billing system is complex and difficult for many to understand, which makes it a rife opportunity for shady medical billing professionals and clinics to dupe patients and insurance providers.

There are many examples and types of shady billing practices in health care, including:

  • Upcoding (overbilling)
  • Duplicate charges
  • Phantom charges (billed for services never rendered)
  • Unbundling (separation of charges that the insurance company should bill together)
  • Incorrect quantities (inflating total items/medications received by the patient)

Any of these billing practices are an ethical breach for a clinic and could lead to legal action from the patient and the insurance provider.


There are clearly many opportunities for a clinic to face legal action due to unethical conduct, which is why group malpractice insurance is essential for any medical clinic. If you have questions about unethical conduct or malpractice insurance, contact our expert team at Baxter & Associates.