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Bioethics Grand Rounds

Wed, March 22, 2017, 12:00pm
UH Ford Amphitheater & Lobby

Autumn Fiester, PhD, Division of Medical Ethics, Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy, Perelman School of Medicine University of Pennsylvania

Title –  The “Difficult” Patient Reconceived: Learning the Skills of Mediators in Managing Challenging Clinical Encounters.

Abstract: Between 15%-60% of patients are considered “difficult” by their treating physicians.  Patient psychiatric pathology is the conventional explanation for why patients are deemed “difficult.” But the prevalence of the problem suggests the possibility of a less pathological cause.  I argue that the phenomenon can be better explained as responses sourced in conflicts related to healthcare delivery and that the solution to the “difficult patient” is to teach better conflict management skills to clinical providers.


1. Apply the mediator's concepts of "positions" and "interests" to patient-provider conflicts
2. Identity the moral emotions and explain their significance in managing the "difficult" patient
3. Learn seven maxims for diffusing conflict in clinical encounters

Available via live stream at:

Mon, April 17, 2017

Brian Zikmund-Fisher is quoted in a recent MarketWatch article, "How doctors are getting patients more involved in their own care." Dr. Zikmund-Fisher points out, "Patients are often overwhelmed by massive amounts of data they now have access to. The easier we make it for them to understand, the more likely it is they will use it and the less time the doctor has to spend explaining it.” The article goes on to cite a web-based application developed by Dr. Zikmund-Fisher and colleagues that allows health-care providers and researchers to create graphics that use icons in arrays that show risk information in ways that make it easier for people to grasp information.

A study by former CBSSM Co-Director, Angela Fagerlin, is also cited in the article.

Sun, October 17, 2010

Brian Zikmund-Fisher, PhD, was featured in an interview by the U-M News Service on September 29, 2010.  Dr. Zikmund-Fisher served as the featured guest editor for a special supplement to Medical Decision Making, Sept/Oct 2010, that focused on the DECISIONS study. In the interview, Dr. Zikmund-Fisher highlighted the need for health care providers to do a better job of educating patients about the medical decisions they face.  A video highlights the findings of the study and can be found at:  CBSSM faculty also involved in the DECISIONS study included Angela Fagerlin, PhD, and Mick Couper, PhD


Our People

CBSSM is an interdisciplinary group committed to improving individual and societal health through research, education, and public outreach. Our unit attracts scholars from across departmental and disciplinary boundaries and in so doing, provides fertile ground for new synergies. CBSSM affiliates with scholars from across the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor VA Health System to collaborate on research projects.

Our team includes:

  • Social and cognitive psychologists
  • Bioethicists
  • Clinicians from many medical specialty areas
  • Public health researchers
  • Decision scientists
  • Behavioral economists
  • Survey methodologists

Darin Zahuranec’s survey study, “Variability in physician prognosis and recommendations after intracerebral hemorrhage” published in Neurology found that physicians vary substantially in ICH prognostic estimates and treatment recommendations. This study suggests that variability could have a profound effect on life and death decision-making and treatment for ICH.

Several CBSSM-affiliated faculty and alumni were co-authors: Angie Fagerlin, Meghan Roney, Andrea Fuhrel-Forbis, and Lewis Morgenstern.

Funded by the Alzheimer's Association

Active Year(s): 2008-2011

The goal of the MCI Risk Communication Study is to develop and evaluate a risk communication protocol to convey diagnostic and risk information to MCI patients and family members. A multi-step protocol will be created, taking into account principles of health risk communication, patient and provider preferences, and ethical issues involved in working with cognitively impaired populations. The protocol will be delivered by health care professionals with risk communication experience and tested on 10 patient/care-partner dyads recruited from Alzheimer’s Disease Centers at the University of Michigan and Boston University. The results of this pilot study will help inform the fourth trial of REVEAL.

PI: J. Scott Roberts, PhD

The University of Michigan is seeking a nominee to the national competition for the Greenwall Foundation Faculty Scholars Program in Bioethics. The October 1st internal deadline has been extended. Details can be found at:

Please consider attending the Health Services Research Group Launch Symposium at the North Campus Research Complex (Building 18) on Thursday, May 26, 7:30am - 5:00 pm.  The purpose is to discuss the HSR Group's goals and future plans, discuss relevant topics in healthcare policy, and network with colleagues.  Even if you are unable to attend, go to the registration page to indicate your interest in health services research and health policy so that you may be contacted again in the future.  Click here to register.

In addition, there is an effort to collect information on all HSR groups on campus for purposes of networking and for junior investigators or newcomers to U-M to find colleagues and collaborators.  Preliminary information will be provided at the Symposium and later a Wiki website will be created.  Please send the main research theme(s) of the group/center; rough idea about the investigators, divisions, departments, schools; website URL, if applicable; seminar information, if applicable; and contact information to Joe Zogaib at

A Matter of Perspective (Jul-07)

Are opinions on whether health care funding should be rationed dependent on an individual's perspective? Imagine that there are two regional health systems, each responsible for providing health care for one million people. The Director of each system has enough money to fund only one of two medical treatment programs. The health systems have the same limited budget and are the same in every way except for the treatment program that each Director decides to fund.

One Director decides to fund Program A, which will cure 100 people with moderate shortness of breath. People with this condition have shortness of breath when walking an average block with no hills.
The other Director decides to fund Program B, which will cure 100 people with severe shortness of breath. People with this condition have shortness of breath even when walking only short distances, such as from the bedroom to the bathroom.
Which Director made the better decision?
  • Director who funded Program A (moderate shortness of breath)
  • Director who funded Program B (severe shortness of breath)
  • Both choices were equally good
If you chose either the Program A Director or the Program B Director, how may how many people would have to be cured of other condition to make the two choices seem equally good to you? Reminder: Program A and Program B would both cure 100 people.
Next, please check your responses to these statements:
"The thought of only one group of people being able to get treatment while other people may not be able to get treatment makes me feel outraged."
  • strongly agree
  • agree
  • neutral
  • disagree
  • strongly disagree
"I believe that there are situations where health care has to be rationed because sometimes there are not enough financial resources (eg, money for health care programs)."
  • strongly agree
  • agree
  • neutral
  • disagree
  • strongly disagree

How do your answers compare?

Before we analyze your responses to the scenario, we'd like to offer some background information about this area of research.

In an environment of scarce health care resources, policy makers and leaders of health care organizations often must make difficult choices about funding treatment programs. Researchers find out how people value different health states by asking questions like the ones you've answered. This area of research is called "person tradeoff elicitation."

The problem is that many people refuse to give a comparison value, saying that both choices are equal ("equivalence refusal") or saying that millions of people would have to be cured of one condition to be equal to the other treatment choice ("off-scale refusal"). Sometimes these responses are appropriate, but many times these responses seem inappropriate. Furthermore, the frequency of these decision refusals depends on how the questions are asked.

What were the specific goals of this research study?

In an article published by Laura J. Damschroder, Todd R. Roberts, Brian J. Zikmund-Fisher, and Peter A. Ubel (Medical Decision Making, May/June 2007), the authors explored whether people would be more willing to make health care tradeoffs if they were somewhat removed from the decision making role. As part of their study, the researchers asked people to comment on choices made by others, in this case, the Directors of two identical regional health systems. For this study, the researchers anticipated that asking participants to judge someone else's decision would make it easier for the participants to compare the benefit of curing two conditions that have a clear difference in severity. The researchers thought that adopting a perspective of judging someone else's decision might lessen the participants' feeling about making "tragic choices" between groups of patients and hence result in fewer refusals to choose. The researchers also hypothesized that respondents taking a non-decision-maker perspective would be more detached and would feel less outraged about the idea of having to ration medical treatments. As we will explain below, the researchers were surprised to learn that their hypotheses were wrong!

What did this research study find?

Some people surveyed in this study were asked to decide for themselves which of two treatment programs for shortness of breath should be funded. Others, like you, were asked which health system Director made the better decision about treatment programs for shortness of breath. Significantly, the respondents who had the evaluator perspective had nearly two times higher odds of giving an equivalence refusal�that is, saying that the decisions were equal. Why did this evaluator perspective fail to decrease these decision refusals? One possibility is that respondents did not feel as engaged in the decision. It's also possible that respondents felt that they were judging the Directors who made the decision rather than the decision itself. Or maybe respondents didn't want to second-guess the decisions of people they perceived as experts. The researchers predicted that people who had to make the decision about treatment themselves would be more outraged about the idea of rationing health care treatments. This prediction was also wrong! 69% of all respondents agreed that rationing is sometimes necessary, and yet 66% of all respondents also felt outraged about the idea of having to ration. The percentages were nearly the same for those deciding directly and those evaluating the decision of Directors of health care systems.

What conclusions did the researchers draw?

The researchers in this study concluded that perspective definitely matters in making hard choices about allocation of health care resources. They attempted to increase people's willingness to make tradeoffs by changing their perspective from decision maker to evaluator of someone else's decision. These attempts backfired. Contrary to the researchers' predictions, people were dramatically more likely to give equivalence refusals when they were assigned to a non-decision-maker perspective. The researchers also concluded that the degree of emotion aroused by health care rationing also plays a role in people's willingness to make tradeoffs.

So, how does your response to the Directors' decision in the shortness-of-breath scenario compare with the responses of the people surveyed for this study?

If you responded that the choices of both Directors were equal, you were not alone! Overall, with this scenario and related ones, 32% of respondents in the published study refused to make the tradeoff. These were the equivalence refusals. In comparison, 21% of respondents in the study who were asked to decide themselves between two patient groups gave an equivalence refusal.

If you made a choice of Directors in the shortness-of-breath scenario, how does your numerical answer compare with the responses of people surveyed for this study?

In the study, 15% of respondents gave a number of one million or more as the point at which the Directors' decisions about the two treatment programs would be equal. These were the off-scale refusals. In comparison, 19% of respondents in the study who were asked to decide themselves about the two programs gave an off-scale refusal.

What about your level of outrage?

In the study, 69% of respondents agreed that rationing of health care treatment is sometimes necessary, but 66% also felt outraged about the idea of having to ration. These attitudes were the same whether the respondents were assigned an evaluator perspective (as you were) or a direct decision maker perspective.

Read the article:

Why people refuse to make tradeoffs in person tradeoff elicitations: A matter of perspective?
Damschroder LJ, Roberts TR, Zikmund-Fisher BJ, Ubel PA. Medical Decision Making 2007;27:266-288.


Working Group

The Working Group provides a forum for project focused discussions and interdisciplinary collaborations in topics related to bioethics, health communication, decision making and any other topic that fits within the 5 domains of CBSSM.

Working group meetings provide an opportunity for investigators to receive feedback on research proposals, drafts of papers, grant applications, or any other aspects of projects at any stage of development. These sessions are to help move forward a project in any stage of its development. So if your project is in the works, in the planning stages, or perhaps it is still just an idea, you design the session and determine how to best solicit the help and support of your colleagues.
Some examples could be:

  • Outline sketch of specific aims for a grant. (Presenter would provide a one page summary before the session)
  • Outline of a proposed paper or paper in draft stage. (Discussion would be based on one page summary. Presenter would walk the group through the outline or draft, and solicit feedback on significance and coherence of ideas)
  • Determining a paper’s relevance. (Presenter could ask group members to read a paper, in order to discuss/determine if that paper is crucial to the project that the person has in mind-- different from a journal club exercise.)

This meeting is designed as an informal working group not a formal presentation.

The working group usually meets on Tuesdays or Wednesdays at 4pm in NCRC B16-266C. To be added to the email list, please contact Amy Lynn at OR join our email list.