Christian Vercler is a Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatric Plastic Surgery at the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. He is a service chief of the Clinical Ethics Service in the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine (CBSSM). Dr. Vercler has a special interest in ethics in surgery and he holds master's degrees in both Theology and Bioethics. He has a passion for teaching medical students and residents and has won teaching awards from Emory University Medical School, Harvard Medical School, and the University of Michigan.
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Funded by the National Institutes of Health
Funding Years: 2015-2020
Every year, one in 10 older people fall and sustain injury requiring medical care. Fall-related injury is the number one cause of accidental death in older Americans. However, fall injury is rarely considered as a outcome in controlled trials, which have traditionally focused on death and cardiovascular events. Until recently, we lacked methods of capturing fall-related injury in large healthcare databases. We will first use the Health and Retirement Study, a national study of older Americans, to develop a method of classifying severe fall injury in found in Medicare claims data across acute, ambulatory, and long-term care. Next, we will study how a national healthcare system, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), delivers aggressive hypertension care (AHC) and whether AHC results in net benefit or harm due to cardiovascular events and severe fall-related injury. Hypertension is the single most common chronic condition in older adults. Medication treatment prevents important cardiovascular events (strokes, myocardial infarctions and heart failure), however also contributes to risk of falls. We do not fully understand the net benefits and harms among our oldest patients in clinical practice, especially after age 75 - those most prone to severe fall-injury. Thus, we aim to study the net harms and benefits associated with AHC.
PI(s): Lillian Min
Co-I(s): Timothy Hofer, Kenneth Langa, Neil Burton Alexander, Andrzej Galecki, Eve Kerr, Hyungjin Myra Kim
Dr. Sussman is a Research Scientist in the Center for Clinical Management Research at the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Health System and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. He attended medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, completed internal medicine residency at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar at the University of Michigan.
Because of the high cost of many prescription drugs, some people take fewer pills than prescribed. What are the health implications?
Imagine that four months ago, you started getting chest pains whenever you exerted yourself physically, and at the time you decided this was serious enough to see a doctor. After your doctor examined you and ran some tests, you were told that you have angina, a kind of heart disease. This disease can develop when the coronary arteries become narrow and clogged from high cholesterol and the heart can't get the oxygen that it needs. Your doctor helped you plan some lifestyle changes to treat your condition. You have been very devoted to the new way of life, eating healthier and doing the proper kinds of exercise regularly. Also, part of your treatment involves regularly taking the medication that your doctor prescribed for you. You were told to take one pill each day.
- I would take the pill every day as prescribed.
- I would skip some days to save some money.
How do your answers compare?
You have to save money somehow, right? Perhaps you would just have to cut back on other expenses in your life, but apparently you felt the medication had to be taken as prescribed. Research has found, however, that especially among the elderly, a significant portion of the population reports restricting medications due to cost. An important question is whether this leads to adverse health outcomes. Policy debates have been largely divided on this issue.
Do those who restrict their medications due to cost experience adverse health outcomes?
A research team led by Dr. Michele Heisler and Dr. Kenneth Langa conducted a study to investigate this question. Prior to this study, no one had examined this question by studying the same individuals at different points in time to see if those who restricted medication due to cost were more likely to develop adverse health outcomes. The researchers obtained nationally representative data that was the result of nearly 8000 interviews. Each respondent was interviewed in 1995 or 1996 and then re-interviewed in 1998. At both times, individuals were asked about cost-related medication restriction and about their health. The health questions assessed overall health, angina and other cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, arthritis, and depression.
The researchers found that cost-related medication restriction was associated with almost twice the odds of experiencing a significant decline in overall health. The association between restricting medication due to cost and poor health outcomes was strongest for those who had cardiovascular disease. Of these individuals, those who restricted their medication had a 50% increased odds of suffering angina and a 51% increased odds of having a stroke. Aren't you glad on the previous page you said you wouldn't restrict your angina medication?
Those who had arthritis or diabetes and restricted their medication due to cost did not report worse disease-related outcomes at the second interview. For arthritis, this might have been because of equally effective over-the-counter pain medications, and for diabetes, higher rates of kidney disease would likely require a longer period of follow-up to detect. When looking at age as a factor, the results showed that older adults experienced significant declines in overall health, worse cardiovascular outcomes, and increased depression. The study showed that younger people who restrict are also at risk for a decline in their health.
One limitation of this study is the lack of data about how often individuals restricted medications. If an individual restricted only once or twice, it is not clinically plausible that this would have led to an adverse health outcome. Also, the data on health outcomes were self-reported, and thus subject to bias. Previous studies, however, have shown excellent agreement between medical records and self-reports for conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and stroke.
Implications on policy
This study provides evidence that, contrary to some claims, adults with chronic illnesses who restrict medications due to cost experience adverse health outcomes. As drug costs continue to escalate and individuals continue to lack full prescription coverage from their health insurance, it will be increasingly important for healthcare systems and physicians to develop strategies to screen patients for cost-related underuse of medications and to provide assistance to these patients. Moreover, insurance companies will need to create benefit packages that provide appropriate coverage, taking into account the cost of prescription medications.
For more information see:
Michele Heisler, Kenneth M. Langa, Elizabeth L. Eby, A. Mark Fendrick, Mohammed U. Kabeto, John D. Piette. The Health Effects of Restricting Prescription Medication Use Because of Cost. Medical Care, 42(7). 2004.
Patients sometimes skip treatments because they just feel too busy. What should physicians do when their patients ignore their recommendations?
Imagine you are a businessperson who works long hours and you are on your way up to having a successful and lucrative career. You have a major business deal that will consume nearly all of your time over the upcoming month and your boss is relying on you to make sure the deal goes through. This is your chance to really make your mark and show your corporation that you are the kind of person that can handle deals as big as this one. Also suppose you have been smoking on and off for 25 years. You know it's a bad habit that could destroy your lungs, but you just can't quite kick it. Lately, you have been feeling tired, you have been experiencing chest pains when you are really busy at work and when you exercise, and you have had trouble breathing when climbing a flight of stairs. The chest pains are usually relieved by a little rest, but you decide it's time to get this examined by a doctor.
One day after work, you go to see Dr. Coral, who gives you a stress test and determines that you'll need an appointment for an angiogram to better evaluate your coronary arteries. Fortunately, you find one free day right before things get hectic at work, so you schedule the angiogram. Now imagine you have just had the angiogram and you are recovering in a paper gown waiting for Dr. Coral to come back with the results. Dr. Coral enters the room to speak with you and he has a serious look on his face. He says,
"I have both good and bad news for you. The angiogram shows that your 3 main coronary arteries are all severely blocked. The good news is that we caught this before you had a major heart attack."
"The bad news is that I am recommending you have triple bypass surgery as soon as possible. Your heart is working overtime, and it is just a matter of time until it gives out."
- I would put aside Dr. Coral's recommendation and instead take responsibility at work for the current deal. I'll wait to have surgery in about a month.
- I would follow Dr. Coral's recommendation by having surgery immediately, even though this forfeits the current opportunity at work.
A little feedback on what you chose.
- understand the information about the condition and the choices available;
- make a judgment about the information in keeping with his or her personal values and beliefs;
- understand the potential outcomes or consequences of different choices; and
- freely communicate his or her wishes
Kathryn Moseley served as one of the judges at "The Big Ethical Question Slam 5" hosted by a2ethics.org. In addition, Naomi Laventhal, Michele Gornick, Christian Vercler, Lauren Smith, and Lauren Wancata served as judges at the "Michigan Highschool Ethics Bowl 2."
Thanks to all the CBSSM folks who contributed their time!
For more information about these events and other great ethics-related activites, go to a2ethics.org.
A short video about the Highschool Ethics Bowl can be found here.
Dr. Sarah T. Hawley is a Professor in the Division of General Medicine at the University of Michigan and a Research Investigator at the Ann Arbor VA Center of Excellence in Health Services Research & Development. She holds a PhD in health services research from the University of North Carolina and an MPH from Yale University Department of Public Health. Her primary research is in decision making related to cancer prevention and control, particularly among racial/ethnic minority and underserved populations.
The Bishop Lectureship in Bioethics
Together with the Bishop endowment, CBSSM sponsors the Bishop Lecture in Bioethics. The Bishop Lecture in Bioethics was made possible by a generous gift from the estate of Ronald and Nancy Bishop, both graduates of the University of Michigan Medical School (Class of ‘44). The Bishop lecture typically serves as the keynote address for the CBSSM Research Colloquium. The Bishop Lecture selection committee is headed by Susan Goold, MD, MHSA, MA. Click here for more details.
CBSSM Research Colloquium
The Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine (CBSSM) Research Colloquium features presentations focusing on bioethics and social sciences in medicine across multiple disciplines. Click here for more details.
CBSSM Seminar Series
Building upon the very successful “joint seminars” of past years sponsored by the Bioethics Program and the Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences in Medicine (CBDSM), CBSSM hosts seminars on a bimonthly basis throughout the academic year, inviting investigators to present both developing and finished research topics. Click here for more details.
In addition to the Bishop Lecture in Bioethics, CBSSM has sponsored and co-sponsored a number of other events.
With support from the UMHS Office of Clinical Affairs and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, CBSSM’s Program in Clinical Ethics sponsors the monthly Bioethics Grand Rounds, focusing on ethical issues arising in health care and medicine. This educational session is open to UMHS faculty and staff.
Film Screening & Moderated Discussion
CBSSM also sponsors film screenings and moderated panel discussions. In 2017, CBSSM sponsored a free film screening of "Concussion." The moderated panel included Ellen Arruda, PhD, Mechanical Engineering; Karen Kelly-Blake, PhD, Bioethics, MSU; & Matthew Lorincz, MD, PhD, Neurology. The moderator was Raymond De Vries, PhD.
In 2015, CBSSM co-sponsored a free film screening of "Still Alice." The panel included Nancy Barbas, MD and J. Scott Roberts, PHD and the moderator was Raymond De Vries, PhD. The event was co-sponsored by the Michigan Alzheimer's Disease Center.
Current Event Panels
In 2014, CBSSM co-sponsored the panel "Incidental Findings in Clinical Exome and Genome Sequencing: The Drama and the Data" featuring Robert C. Green, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Genetics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, as the keynote speaker. The panel included Jeffrey W. Innis, MD, PhD, Morton S. and Henrietta K. Sellner Professor in Human Genetics and Director, Division of Pediatric Genetics, and Wendy R. Uhlmann, MS, CGC, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Internal Medicine and Department of Human Genetics. The panel was moderated by Sharon L.R. Kardia, PhD, Director, Public Health Genetics Program and the Life Sciences and Society Program, School of Public Health, University of Michigan. This event was also co-sponsored by the Department of Human Genetics, Genetic Counseling Program and Life Sciences and Society, Department of Epidemiology.
In 2013, CBSSM sponsored the panel "What does the Supreme Court ruling on gene patents mean for public health?" The panel featured panelists, Rebecca Eisenberg, JD, Robert and Barbara Luciano Professor of Law; Sofia Merajver, MD, PhD, Professor, Department of Internal Medicine; and Shobita Parthasarathy, PhD, Associate Professor of Public Policy, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. The panel was moderated by Edward Goldman, JD, Associate Professor, UM Department of ObGyn Women's Hospital and Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Health Management and Policy.
Each year, CBSSM sponsors one Decision Consortium speaker with a focus on health-related decision making. Decision Consortium, hosted by the Department of Psychology, is a University-wide distributed center for scholarship on decision making. Each session involves a vigorous discussion of new ideas and research on problems that have significant decision making elements. CBSSM-sponsored speakers included Kevin Volpp, MD, PhD, UPenn (2015), Karen Sepucha, PhD, Harvard (2013), and Ellen Peters, PhD, OSU (2012). In 2016, CBSSM will sponsor Lisa Schwartz, MD, MS and Steven Woloshin, MD, MS from the Dartmouth Institute.
The Waggoner Lecture
In November of 2010, CBSSM co-sponsored the 15th annual Waggoner Lecture, an annual event in honor of the late Dr. Raymond Waggoner, former chair of the Department of Psychiatry. The lecture was presented by Bernard Lo, MD, Director of the Program in Medical Ethics at the University of California-San Francisco, and was entitled, “Stem cells: Intractable ethical dilemmas or emerging agreement.”
In November 2011, CBSSM co-sponsored the Waggoner Lecture breakfast. The lecture was presented by Laura Roberts, MD, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine, and was entitled, “Becoming a Physician: Stresses and Strengths of Physicians- in-Training.”
Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race
In 2012, in conjunction with Taubman Health Sciences Library and the UM Center for the History of Medicine, CBSSM co-sponsored the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s traveling exhibition, “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race.” The exhibition illustrates how Nazi leadership enlisted people in professions traditionally charged with healing and the public good, to legitimize persecution, murder and, ultimately, genocide.
MICHR Research Education Symposium
In 2013, CBSSM co-sponsored the Michigan Institute for Clinical & Health Research (MICHR) Research Education Symposium, "Life at the Interface of Genomics and Clinical Care." The symposium included a series of talks on topics with implications for translational and clinical research. The keynote speaker was Dr. Ellen Wright Clayton, JD, MD, Rosalind E. Franklin Professor of Genetics and Health Policy; Craig-Weaver Professor of Pediatrics; Professor of Law; and Director, Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Wright Clayton’s topic was “Addressing Biomedical Ethics.”
Andrew G. Shuman, MD is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Michigan Medical School. He is also the Chief of the ENT Section of the Surgery Service at the VA Ann Arbor Health System. He is a service chief of the Clinical Ethics Service in the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine (CBSSM). His current research interests explore ethical issues involved in caring for patients with head and neck cancer, and in managing clinical ethics consultations among patients with cancer.