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Is your well-being influenced by the guy sitting next to you? (Nov-03)

Rating your satisfaction with your life may not be a completely personal decision. See how your satisfaction rating may be influenced by others.

When answering this question, imagine that there is someone in a wheelchair sitting next to you. They will also be answering this question, but you will not have to share your answers with each other.

How satisfied are you with your life in general?

Extremely satisfied 1       2       3       4       5       6       7       8       9       10 Not at all satisfied

How do you compare to the people surveyed?

You gave your life satisfaction a rating of 1, which means that you are extremely satisfied with your life. In a study done where people with a disabled person sitting next to them wrote down their life satisfaction on a questionnaire, they gave an average life satisfaction rating of 2.4, which means they were very satisfied with their lives.

What if you'd had to report your well-being to another person instead of writing it down?

In the study, half the people had to report their well-being in an interview with a confederate (a member of the research team who was posing as another participant). When the participants had to report in this way, and the confederate was not disabled, the participants rated their well-being as significantly better than those who reported by writing it on the questionnaire in the presence of a non-disabled confederate (2.0 vs. 3.4, lower score means higher well-being). The scores given when reporting to a disabled confederate elicited a well-being score that was no different than that when completing the questionnaire in the presence of a disabled confederate (2.3 vs. 2.4).

Mean life satisfaction ratings, lower score means higher satisfaction
Mode of rating well-being Disabled confederate Non-disabled Confederate
Interview (public) 2.3 2.0
Questionnaire (private) 2.4 3.4
What caused the difference in well-being scores?

When making judgments of well-being, people (at least in this study) tend to compare themselves to those around them. This effect is seen more when well-being was reported in an interview than when the score was privately written down, due to self-presentation concerns. A higher rating was given in public so as to appear to be better off than one may truly feel. Note that the effect was only seen in the case where the confederate was not disabled. While well-being ratings were better overall with a disabled confederate, there was no difference between the private and public ratings. Social comparison led to a better well-being judgment, but it appears that the participants were hesitant to rate themselves too highly in front of the disabled person for fear of making the disabled person feel worse.

Why is this important?

Subjective well-being is a commonly used measure in many areas of research. For example, it is used as one way to look at the effectiveness new surgeries or medications. The above studies show that SWB scores can vary depending on the conditions under which they are given. Someone may give a response of fairly high SWB if they are interviewed before leaving the hospital, surrounded by people more sick than they are. From this, it would appear as though their treatment worked great. But suppose that they are asked to complete a follow-up internet survey a week later. Since they do not have to respond to an actual person face-to-face, and without being surrounded by sick people, they may give a lower rating than previously. Is this because the treatment actually made their SWB worse over the longer term, or simply because a different method was used to get their response? The only way to really know would be to use the same methodology to get all their responses, which might not always be feasible. These are important considerations for researchers to keep in mind when analyzing results of their studies. Are the results they got the true SWB of their participants, or is it an artifact of how the study was done? And is there a way to know which measure is right, or are they both right which would lead to the conclusion that SWB is purely a momentary judgment based on a social context?

For more information see:

Strack F, Schwarz N, Chassein B, Kern D, Wagner D. Salience of comparison standards and the activation of social norms: Consequences for judgements of happiness and their communication. British Journal of Social Psychology. 29:303-314, 1990.

MD vs. WebMD: The Internet in Medical Decisions (Dec-10)

With just a simple search term and a click of the mouse, a person can find a large amount of health information on the Internet. What role does the Internet play in how patients make medical decisions? Does using the Internet as a source for information to help patients make informed decisions vary by health condition? Does the Internet substitute for detailed discussions with a health care provider?

Consider the following:

Imagine that you recently visited your health care provider for an annual physical examination. During the exam your doctor told you that you are at the age where you should start thinking about getting a screening test for colon cancer. In this conversation your health care provider explained some of the reasons why you should get screened. At the end of the visit, you had more information about screening tests for colon cancer but had not yet decided whether or not you wanted to get tested.

As you think about how you would make a decision about whether or not to get screened for colon cancer:
How important is your health care provider as a source of information about screening tests for colon cancer?
Not at all important (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) Extremely important
Would you use, or have someone else use for you, the Internet to find information on screening tests for colon cancer?
  • Yes
  • No
  • Don't know
How important is the Internet as a source of information screening tests for colon cancer?
Not at all important (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) Extremely important

How do your answers compare?

In a recent study published in the journal Medical Decision Making, CBSSM investigators Brian Zikmund-FisherMick Couper, and Angela Fagerlin examined Internet use and perceived importance of different sources of information by patients making specific medical decisions.

In this study, US adults aged 40 years and older were asked about how they got information about 9 common medical decisions, including decisions about common prescription medication (for high blood pressure, cholesterol, and depression), cancer-screening tests (for colorectal, breast, and prostate cancer), and elective surgeries (for lower back pain, cataracts, and knee/hip replacement). In addition, they study compared participants' ratings of the Internet as a source of information with their ratings of other sources, such as their health care provider.

So, how did your responses compare to the average adult in this study's population?

Results from this study showed that most patients did not use the Internet to make specific medical decisions like the ones you considered. On average, about 26% of participants made use of the Internet for information to make decisions about colon cancer screening tests and about 47% used it to inform a decision about lower back pain surgery.

Among participants who chose to use the Internet for finding information about specific medical decisions, data show that Internet use varies significantly across different types of medical decisions. Internet users were more likely to use the Internet for information related to elective surgery (36%), such as lower back pain surgery, and prescription medication (32%) than for cancer-screening decisions (22%), such as colon cancer screening.

Another element of this study looked at participants' ratings of different information sources. You are unlike other participants in this study in that you did not consistently rate health care providers as the most important source for information about colon cancer screening and lower back pain surgery. The CBSSM study found that, for both Internet users and nonusers, health care providers were rated highest as a source for information for all 9 decisions studied. Among Internet users, however, the Internet was rated as their 2nd-most important source of information.

The researchers found that Internet use to inform specific medical decisions varied by age ranging from 38% for those aged 40 to 49 years to 14% for those aged 70 years or older. Approximately 33% of 50 to 59 year olds used the Internet to make these medical decisions and 24% for those in the 60 to 69 year age category. This result is consistent with previous research on the demographics of Internet use.

The study authors concluded that the Internet has an impact on people's access to health care information; however, "the data suggest that access is not the same as use, and use for one medical decision does not imply use for all health decisions." In other words, people use the Internet differently depending on the context. The authors end by stating, "Clinicians, health educators, and health policy makers need to be aware that we remain a long way away from having Internet-based information sources universally used by patients to improve and support the process of medical decision making."

For the full text of this article:

Couper M, Singer E, Levin CA, Fowler F, Fagerlin A, Zikmund-Fisher BJ. Use of the internet and ratings of information sources for medical decisions: Results from the DECISIONS survey. Medical Decision Making 2010;30:106S-114S.


Jacquelyn Miller, MA

Research Associate

Jackie re-joined CBSSM in spring of 2017. She currently works with Drs. Lesly Dossett and Tom Valley on projects related to the worries and concerns of those with loved ones in the ICU, feedback and disclosure of errors that have occurred in other hospital systems, and opioid prescribing after cancer surgery. She has a BS in Environmental Policy and Developing Country Studies (University of Michigan, School of Natural Resources and Environment) and a MA in Sociology, specializing in environmental justice, feminist sociology, and science and technology studies (Michigan State University).

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CBSSM's Elias Baumgarten, Raymond De Vries, Kayte Spector-Bagdady, Michele Gornick, & Adam Marks (no pictured) were judges at the 2017 A2Ethics High School Ethics Bowl January 28-29th. Click here for more details about this event.

Research Topics: 

Dr. Jeremy Sussman spoke at the Michigan Center for Diabetes Translational Research (MCDTR) Symposium. The MCDTR held its annual symposium on May 6, featuring a keynote presentation by Dr. Elbert Huang. This year the symposium was held at NCRC, Building 10 Auditorium (presentations) and building 18, lower level dining area (for poster session and buffet lunch). There was a poster presentation area where one can view the displays during and after lunch. RSVP to Pam Campbell at

Dr. Lewis B. Morgenstern was one of the 21 Med School faculty/staff members who received honors through the Dean's Awards program. He received the Clinical and Health Services Research Award, which recognizes a faculty member or group of faculty members who are identified as having made outstanding contributions to the Medical School in clinical or health services research. You can read the press release here.

Supporting information for: 2015 CBSSM Research Colloquium and Bishop Lecture (Lawrence O. Gostin, J.D., LL.D Hon.)

Natalie Bartnik, MPH, Research Associate, HBHE Genetics Research Group, UM School of Public Health: "Why, how and when oncologists disclose genome sequencing results in clinical practice"

Abstract: Integrating an individual’s clinical history with genome sequencing data can inform diagnostic and treatment strategies tailored to the patient’s mutational landscape. In oncology, precision medicine offers the additional opportunity to characterize novel gene targets for patients with cancer who lack known or viable targets. It is not known whether oncologists communicate sequencing results to patients, or how and why oncologists integrate sequencing profiles into clinical practice. In a survey of 43 oncologists who referred 111 patients to the MIONCOSEQ Study, we found that nearly a quarter of oncologists planned to make changes to their patient’s treatment based on genomic findings. Prominent barriers to the integration of sequencing results into clinical practice were a lack of findings with perceived clinical significance, as well as limitations in locally available clinical trials. The majority of physicians planned to communicate sequencing results to their patients, mostly via in-person clinic visits.

Michele Gornick, PhD, MICHR PTSP Postdoctoral Fellow, VA HSRD Fellow & CBSSM Research Investigator: "Information and deliberation make a difference: The public’s preferences for the return of secondary genomic findings"

Abstract: As genome sequencing becomes a part of clinical practice, how best to disclose sequencing results –including secondary findings-- raises significant issues. Expert consensus panels have been convened to provide recommendations, but what do members of the public want? In order to address this gap, we organized a deliberative democracy (DD) session to educate members of the public on genome sequencing, to engage them in dialogue about the benefits and risks of the clinical implementation of this technology, and to elicit their informed perspectives about policies governing the return of secondary findings. A significant shift in participants’ perspectives on the disclosure of adult onset conditions from the baseline survey, that remained stable after a month follow-up (response rate = 87%; Χ2(1, N=60) = 4.26, p =0.039), suggests the value of education and deliberation for the appreciation of the scientific and ethical complexities of genome sequencing.

Aaron Scherer, PhD, CBSSM Postdoctoral Fellow: "Elephants, Donkeys, and Medicine: Political Differences in Health Risk Perceptions and Adherence to Medical Recommendations"

The relationship between political ideology and health is often relegated to discussions of health care policy. But what if political ideology affects much more than health care policy preferences? I will discuss two studies that provide some initial evidence that political ideology influences our perceptions of health risks and adherence to medical recommendations. In one study examining risk communication strategies, political ideology was related to differences in perceptions of Ebola and influenza risk, as well as willingness to vaccinate against these two infectious diseases. In a second study examining beliefs in medical conspiracies, political ideology was related to differences in self-reported adherence to doctor’s recommendations and prescription use. The psychological differences between conservatives and liberals that may help illuminate why these differences exist will be discussed.

Stephanie Kukora, MD and Nathan Gollehon, MD, Fellows, Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, UM Mott Children’s Hospital: "Epidemiology of outpatient prenatal consultation: implications for decision-making and perinatal outcomes"

Abstract: Neonatologists provide anticipatory guidance and support decision-making for complicated pregnancies, in which poor/ambiguous prognostication can lead to over-/under-treatment.  Referral to antenatal palliative care consultation (PCC) is not standard; little is known about the basis for referral, and their role in perinatal decision-making.

117 women had outpatient neonatology consultation, with decision-making for 146 fetuses with multiple anomalies/genetic, single major anomaly, or obstetric complications. 18(12%) were given a prognosis of uniform non-survival and 41(28%) had anticipated survival with intervention. Remaining fetuses were given unknown prognoses 87(60%), some qualified “likely survivable” 17(12%) or “likely poor” 33(23%). Most prognoses aligned with outcomes, though outcomes were better than predicted in 3(2%) infants and worse in 10(7%).  Mismatches between prognosis and decision occurred in 10(7%) infants who were provided resuscitation despite “non-survival” or “likely poor” prognoses.

23 (19.7%) of the 117 mother/fetus pairs received antenatal PCC.  Prognoses included: 11(48%) non-survivable, 11(48%) unknown but likely poor, 1(4%) survivable with surgical intervention. Fetal/neonatal outcome included: fetal demise 5(22%), in-hospital death 16(70%), survival to discharge 2(9%). 22 maternal/fetal pairs with 3(13%) non-survivable and 19(86%) likely poor prognoses were not referred, but had similar outcomes: fetal demise 4(18%), in-hospital death 15(68%), survival to discharge 3(14%). Those with PCC were more likely to choose comfort-care than those without (61% vs. 18%, p < 0.01). Of non-survivors, 94% with PCC died within 4 days while 27% without PCC received >14 days of intensive care.

We identified relatively few cases of mismatch between prognosis and outcome; however, rare cases of prognostic failure warrant caution. Although allowing parents to pursue aggressive neonatal care respects autonomy, it may delay rather than prevent death. Long-term outcomes with and without PCC were similar for infants with poor prognoses, though non-survivors with PCC were more likely to have a comfort care plan and shorter time to in-hospital death.

Minnie Bluhm, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor, School of Health Sciences, Eastern Michigan University: "Oncologists' decisions about administering late chemotherapy: What makes it so difficult?"

Abstract: Background. An estimated 20-50% of incurable cancer patients receive chemotherapy in the last 30 days of life, although little data support this practice.  Continued use of chemotherapy typically precludes hospice enrollment.  It may also result in more symptoms, increased use of aggressive treatments, and worsening quality of life.  Despite this, few studies have explored oncologists' rationales for administering chemotherapy during the last weeks of life.  The purpose of this study is to examine factors that oncologists report influence their decisions about late chemotherapy.

Methods. In-depth individual interviews were conducted with 17 oncologists using a semi-structured interview guide.  Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim.  Transcripts were coded and content analyzed for themes and patterns.

Results.  Three key findings emerged.  1) Clinical factors drive oncologists’ late chemotherapy decisions when they point to clear treatment choices, along with patient preferences.  When clinical factors are ambiguous, non-clinical factors become more salient.  2) Late chemotherapy is patient-driven.  It is used to palliate physical and emotional symptoms and maintain patient hope, even when physical benefit is not expected.  3) Caring for dying patients is difficult and impacts oncologists and their treatment decisions.  Difficulties also cited as influences favoring treatment include: emotional exhaustion, difficulty communicating about stopping or not starting chemotherapy, overwhelming sense of responsibility for life and death, feeling badly about the limits of oncology to heal, and prognostic uncertainty.

Conclusions.  Findings reveal a nuanced understanding of why it can be so difficult for oncologists to refuse chemotherapy to patients near death.  Doing so adds to the existing burden of caring for dying patients.  Therefore, at times, oncologists prescribe chemotherapy to simply help everyone feel better, regardless of expected clinical benefits or costs.  Future work is needed on the impact of caring for dying patients on oncologists and on supportive interventions that promote optimal treatment decisions.

Danielle Czarnecki, PhD Candidate, UM Department of Sociology: "Moral Women, Immoral Technologies: How Devout Women Negotiate Maternal Desires, Religion, and Assisted Reproductive Technologies"

Abstract: Catholicism is the most restrictive world religion in its position on assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs). The opposition of the Church, combined with the widespread acceptability of ARTs in the U.S., creates a potentially profound moral dilemma for those who adhere to Church doctrine. Drawing on interviews from 33 Catholic women, this study shows that devout women have different understandings of these technologies than non or less religious women. These differences are rooted in devout women’s position of navigating two contradictory cultural schemas (Sewell 1992) —“religious” and “secular”—regarding the meaning of reproductive technologies in the contemporary U.S. Religious schemas provide devout women with different cultural resources that allow them to develop strategies to avoid the use of ARTs. Yet they must still reckon with the ideal of biological parenthood. I show how devout women draw on religious doctrine to find value and meaning in their suffering , to move beyond biological motherhood,  and to ultimately achieve a moral femininity. While religion increases the burden of reproduction for devout women, it also provides the cultural resources to resist the financial, emotional, and physical difficulties experienced by women who use ARTs.

Uchenna Ezeibe, MD, Resident Physician, UMHS Department of Pediatrics & Communicable Diseases: "Pediatric Ethics Consultation Service at a Tertiary Hospital: A Retrospective Review"

Abstract: Background: Published data about hospital ethics consultation services focus primarily on adult patients. There is little information on pediatric ethics consultations – specifically whether patient demographics were related to type and prevalence of consults.

Objective: To review recent ethics consults at a large children’s hospital and explore associations with patient demographics.

Design/Methods: We reviewed ethics consults between 7/1/2009 – 12/31/2013 at a Midwest children’s hospital. We used Armstrong Clinical Ethics Coding System 2013©, modified for pediatrics, to code consults. We collected data on patient race, age, and insurance status (private vs. public) as a proxy for socioeconomic status. We used Microsoft Excel 2013© to generate descriptive statistics.

Results:, approximately 321,713 inpatient visits, and 29 ethics consults were reviewed. Most consults (72.5%) concerned inpatients. Of these, 82% originated from 1 of 3 ICUs (neonatal, pediatric, and pediatric-cardiothoracic). The most common reasons for consultation were: 1) treatment-based decision-making (31%),); 2) end-of-life decisions (28%); & 3) substitute decision-making (24%).  The mean patient age for treatment-based and substitute decision-making consults were similar at 6.8 and 7.9 years, respectively.  Younger patients (mean age: 2.4 years) were involved in end-of-life dilemmas. Patients receiving consults differed from the general patient population in that fewer patients with consults were White (52% vs. 71%) and more were  African-American (34.5% vs 9%).  Approximately 76% of patients with ethics consults had public insurance compared to approximately 29% amongst all inpatient admissions.

Conclusion:  In this single-center retrospective review, we found that African-Americans and patients with public insurance were over-represented in receipt of ethics consultations compared to the general patient population. We also found that dilemmas about end-of-life decisions were more common for younger children. Given our small numbers, strong conclusions cannot be drawn from this data. Nevertheless, our findings do point to areas where communication between family and medical team can be improved.

2012 CBSSM Research Colloquium

Fri, May 18, 2012 (All day)

The 2012 Research Colloquium presentations by U-M faculty, fellows and students highlighted research on medical decision making.  The colloquium presenters and their topics were as follows:

  • Melissa Constantine, PhD: Making a baby in the 21st century: An updated user manual
  • Vida Henderson, PharmD, MPH, MFA, and Deliana Ilarraza: Using community-based participatory research and user-centered design approaches in developing an interactive diabetes decision aid
  • Naomi Laventhal, MD, MA, and Stephanie Kukora, MD: Resident attitudes toward ethical and medical decision-making for neonates born at the limit of viability
  • Kathryn Moseley, MD, MPH: Distrust of pediatricians' sleep advice: Focus group results from the Project for African American Infant Safety
  • Laura Scherer, PhD: What's in a name? The effect of a disease label on parents' decision to medicate a colicky infant
  • Lauren Smith, MD: Cracking the code: Ethical issues involved in the decision to undergo genetic testing
  • Ralph Stern, MD: The myth of individual risk
  • Wendy Uhlmann, MS, CGC: The swinging gate: Genetic testing and ethical issues

Jeffrey Kullgren, MS, MD, MPH


Dr. Jeff Kullgren is a Research Scientist in the Center for Clinical Management Research at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School and Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation.  Dr.

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