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Dr. Susan Goold is the recipient of a Greenwall Foundation grant for her research, "Doctors as Stewards: Where are We and Where Do We Need to Go?"  The Greenwall Foundation was established in 1949 and is known for its interdisciplinary program in bioethics. 

Funded by Greenwall Foundation

Funding Years: 2011-2012

The goal of this project is to study the current data concerning the role of doctors as stewards of limited medical resources.

PI(s): Susan Goold

Lauren Smith, MD


Dr. Lauren Smith is a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Pathology at the University of Michigan specializing in hematopathology.  She has been a member of the University of Michigan Adult Ethics Committee since 2005 and also serves as a Chair of the Michigan State Medical Society Ethics Committee.  Her research interests include ethical issues in clinical medicine and pathology.

Research Interests: 
Last Name: 

Raymond De Vries, PhD

Associate Director

Raymond De Vries PhD is Associate Director at the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine at the University of Michigan and is a Professor in the Department of Learning Health Sciences and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He is also visiting professor at CAPHRI School for Public Health and Primary Care, University of Maastricht, the Netherlands.

Last Name: 
De Vries

Funded by: NIH

Funding Years: 2016-2021

The development of Learning health systems is causing radical transformation of the environment within which the NCI pursues its Mission; understanding the Ethical and social implications of these changes is of paramount importance. In rapid Learning systems (RLS), routinely collected Patient data drive the process of discovery, which in turn becomes a natural outgrowth of clinical care. As the Institute of Medicine has noted, such systems have substantial promise for improving the quality of care and research, and ultimately the value of health care. As such systems develop, the blurring of the current distinction between clinical practice, quality of care, and research necessitates careful consideration of Ethical implications. As RLSs are in their infancy, it is critical to conduct research to generate informed and considered Patient perceptions of the ethical implementation of such systems, particularly regarding ways to ensure respect for Patient autonomy and privacy, including best approaches for informing participants and governance of data use, in order to realize the potential benefits of these systems. Therefore, we propose an innovative study that uses cutting edge methods of deliberative democracy to generate considered and informed opinions of cancer Patients, leveraging a unique opportunity to evaluate Patient experiences during the roll-out of a real-world RLS. Specifically, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has developed a real-world Oncology RLS known as CancerLinQ. CancerLinQ is being implemented in 15 vanguard practices over the next year, and the approach to Patient notification/consent and data governance in this System is actively evolving. We propose an empirical Investigation with two distinct approaches and aims, in collaboration with ASCO and its vanguard practices. First, we will use a deliberative democracy approach to determine the range of informed and considered individual and group opinions and recommendations of cancer Patients on the optimal approach for obtaining Consent and appropriate uses of information routinely collected in the course of medical care as part of a RLS that seeks to improve quality and advance research. Second, following CancerLinQ roll-out, we will survey Patients experiencing the real-world Implementation of this RLS in order to evaluate their knowledge and perceptions of that System. Conducting the proposed work in parallel with the development of a real-world RLS provides an opportunity to directly inform the development and Implementation of a national learning system that will ultimately impact tens of thousands of Patients, and it also allows for the consideration of real- life rather than purely hypothetical scenarios in ways that increase the likelihood that these investigations will yield insights that are directly applicable in other settings. the findings will have substantial relevance to the research Mission of the NCI, as Oncology Learning systems are fundamentally altering the context for research across the spectrum of cancer causation, diagnosis, Prevention, treatment, and survivorship care.

PI: Reshma Jagsi, MD. PhD. 

CO(s): Raymond De Vries, PhD. & Sarah Hawley, PhD. MPH.

What is the price of life? (Aug-03)

Do you think that your life is worth more than the amount that the government usually uses as the maximum to spend to provide one year of life?

Imagine that you are a member of a government panel that is trying to decide how cost-effective a medical treatment must be in order for the government to cover the costs of the treatment. Suppose that a certain treatment could provide one additional year of life to an otherwise healthy person. What is the highest amount the government should be willing to pay per person for this treatment?

How do your answers compare?

For the past twenty years, the figure most often used as the maximum amount to spend to provide one year of life has been $50,000. This figure was originally proposed since it was the cost of a year of kidney dialysis, a lifesaving treatment that the U.S. government funds in Medicare.

Should the number be higher or lower than the current standard?

Conventional wisdom would suggest that the number be higher to take into account the inflation that has occurred in the years since the standard was developed. Current practices such as annual Pap smear screening for women with low risk for cervical cancer, which has a cost of $700,000 per year of life gained, also suggest that society is willing to pay more than the current standard for a year of life. The authors of the cited article recommend, based on current treatment practices and surveys of the general public, that the cost-effectiveness threshold should be revised to be around $200,000.

Should the number increase, decrease, or stay the same over time?

Again, it seems that the threshold amount should increase over time due to inflation. However, other factors come in to play that affect the value.

Since new technologies are emerging all the time, some of which will be deemed cost-effective, there will be more and more treatments to be offered in the future. Also, the rate of use of treatments is an important consideration, because even if a new treatment is more cost-effective than an old one, if it is used more often it will end up costing more to society overall. With more treatments becoming available and more people being given treatments, the threshold cost will probably have to decrease so that insurance companies and the government can keep up with the increasing availability and demand.

Why is this important?

Insurance companies and government health care entities face a continuing struggle when trying to determine which medical treatments to cover. Health care costs are increasing rapidly, so these groups will be facing even tougher decisions in the future. Establishing cost-effectiveness guidelines would be extremely helpful as an aid to making the decisions about treatment coverage. Evidence shows that the current threshold is probably not an accurate reflection of the desires of society or actual prescribing practices. It needs to be adjusted to become useful once again, and must be reevaluated periodically to make sure the value keeps up with trends in the health care market, rather than being left alone without question for two decades as is the current situation.

For more information see:

Ubel PA, Hirth RA, Chernew ME, Fendrick AM. What is the price of life and why doesn't it increase at the rate of inflation? Archives of Internal Medicine. 163:1637-1641, 2003.

Jessica Everett, MS, CGC


Jessica Everett is a Clinical Instructor of Internal Medicine and a genetic counselor in the Cancer Genetics Clinic at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Ms. Everett's research interests include clinical applications of genetic and genomic technologies, and the evolving role of genetic counselors in providing comprehensive care. She participates in education of health professional trainees including genetic counseling graduate students, medical students, and hematology/oncology fellows.  Ms.

Last Name: 

I Saw It on a Billboard (Feb-10)

What is the impact of medical advertising that is directly targeted at patients? What information do consumers of medical products and therapies need in order to make informed decisions about their health?

Consider the following:

Ms. J, a healthy 50-year old woman, drives by a billboard that advertises low-dose spiral computed tomography (CT) scanning to screen for lung cancer. Although she has no family history of cancer and has never smoked, several of Ms. J’s friends have been diagnosed with cancer recently. She worries that she herself may have an undetected malignancy.

Responding to this advertising, Ms. J decides to pay out-of-pocket for a CT scan at the imaging center advertised on the billboard. The radiologist at this imaging center profits from the number of scans interpreted. As a result of the CT scan, an abnormality is found, and Ms. J undergoes a biopsy of her lung. A complication occurs from this procedure, but Ms. J recovers, and the biopsy comes back negative. She is relieved to learn that she does not have lung cancer.

After reading this scenario and thinking about direct-to consumer medical advertising, which of the following statements best represents your views?

  • STATEMENT A: Direct-to-consumer advertising improves patient education and patient-physician communication. Such advertising informs and empowers patients, so that their health care better reflects their needs and values. In particular, certain health services require complex medical equipment with high capital costs. Physicians who invest in such equipment do so because they believe in its promise, and they deserve payment to recoup their investment.
  • STATEMENT B: Direct-to-consumer advertising often results in misunderstanding, increased costs, and disruption of the patient-physician relationship. Such advertising can skew information to portray products in a positive light and can prey upon patients’ fears. Physicians closely allied with a treatment cannot offer objective assessment to patients about the efficacy or risks of the treatment. Further, most patients are ignorant of the financial incentives to physicians for various procedures.
  • STATEMENT C: I have not formed a viewpoint on direct-to-consumer medical advertising.


How do your answers compare? 

CBDSM's Reshma Jagsi, MD, DPhil, has written a powerful challenge to the medical profession and medical industries in a recent issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Dr. Jagsi argues that the increasing proliferation of direct-to-patient advertising has raised questions of how physicians can function as unbiased intermediaries between patients and industry.

In the article, she presents six case studies, one of which has been excerpted and adapted for this Decision of the Month. Dr. Jagsi uses these case studies to address serious issues related to both advertising and conflict of interest. Some examples:

  • What implications does the frequently used advertising directive "Ask your doctor about X" have for the doctor-patient relationship?
  • How ethical is it to disguise medical advertising—for instance, to hire celebrities to discuss treatments during interviews?
  • Should a physician who prescribes a particular medical device be allowed to receive payment from the speakers' bureau of a company that produces that medical device?
  • Should a physician who holds an ownership interest in an expensive treatment machine be required to explain alternate treatments to patients?
  • When does a website about a medical treatment cross over from being informational to being promotional?

Dr. Jagsi argues that physicians have a strong ethical responsibility to their patients to call attention to potential conflicts of interest and to help interpret medical information in the best interests of their patients.

For more details about this study:

Jagsi R. Conflicts of interest and the physician-patient relationship in the era of direct-to-patient advertising. Journal of Clinical Oncology 2007;25:902-905.


Is Bill Gates' time worth more than yours? (Jul-03)

Informal caregiving for relatives (parents, grandparents, spouses) can be time consuming. Can we attach dollar value to that time? Is everyone's time worth the same amount?

Imagine that your mother is suffering from moderate dementia and needs assistance with daily activities such as bathing and dressing. You are the only person available to care for her, as you are an only child and your father has passed away. On average, your mother will need about 2 to 3 hours of help per day, or 17 hours per week total.

Assuming that you provide 17 hours of care per week, that means you will provide about 900 hours of care each year. How much money would you say the time you devote to caregiving is worth each year?
Now imagine that Bill Gates, the world's richest person, is in the same situation as you. He has to provide 17 hours of care per week to his mother. How do you think the value of the time he spends giving care compares to the value of the time you spend giving care?
  • His is worth more
  • His is worth the same amount
  • His is worth less

How do your answers compare?

According to a study done to determine the costs of informal caregiving, the average value of the time spent giving care to someone with moderate dementia was about $7400. This was calculated using an average time of about 900 hours per year, at the mean wage for a home health aide in 1998 of $8.20 per hour.

What if the person you're caring for has less or more severe dementia?

As you might imagine, the cost of informal care differs depending on the severity of dementia. People with mild dementia don't need as much care (8.5 hours per week), and those with severe dementia need much more (41.5 hours per week). The amount of care needed directly impacts the estimated cost of care:

Dementia severity Hours of care per week Estimated cost of informal care
Mild 8.5 $3630
Moderate 17.4 $7420
Severe 41.5 $17,700
Why is this important?

As the Baby Boomer generation ages, the number of people needing informal care is going to increase dramatically. In order to make informed policy decisions regarding care for older people, the government will need an estimate of the value of informal care. A major obstacle to this is that there is no set way for making the estimates.

Earlier, you said that Bill Gate's caregiving time would be worth the same amount as yours. That implies that basing national estimates of caregiving costs on average wages would be the proper way to go about the calculations, since it means everyone's time is equally valuable.

However, some people think that not everyone's time is of equal value. In that case, using average wages to estimate the total cost of caregiving may not lead to an accurate representation. If one group of people is more likely to provide care than another group, then the average value of all caregivers' time may not be the same as the average of all peoples' time. This would possibly lead to an over- or underestimation of caregiving costs, depending on the value of the time of common groups of caregivers. Even without an agreed-upon estimation method, some valuable data can be generated.

The estimation method used in this study likely led to conservative figures, so the true costs of informal caregiving are probably higher than reported here. Even using this conservative method, the costs to society are staggering. The researchers estimated that the cost of informal caregiving for dementia alone in 1998 was $18.6 billion, which is almost two-thirds as much money as that actually spent on paid home care services for all conditions, not just dementia! That figure will grow considerably in the not-so-distant future when the Baby Boomers begin to need caregiving, whether formal or informal, and will likely have a large impact not just on health care systems, but on society as a whole as more and more people are called on to provide informal care.

For more information see:

Langa KM, et al. National estimates of the quantity and cost of informal caregiving for the elderly with dementia. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 16:770-778, 2001.

We are announcing available positions for faculty ethicists in our Clinical Ethics Service. This service is hosted by CBSSM and provides the resources to expand and improve existing clinical ethics services across the institution.

Andrew Shuman, MD and Christian Vercler, MD are the Co-Directors/Leads of the Clinical Ethcs Service.

The detailed descriptions of the open positions can be found below. Application submission deadline is September 25, 2017, with a starting date of January 1, 2018.

Faculty Ethicist Positions