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Wendy Uhlmann, MS, CGC

Faculty

Wendy R. Uhlmann, MS, CGC is the genetic counselor/clinic coordinator of the Medical Genetics Clinic at the University of Michigan. She is a Clinical Professor in the Departments of Internal Medicine and Human Genetics and an executive faculty member of the genetic counseling training program. Wendy Uhlmann is a Past President of the National Society of Genetic Counselors and previously served on the Board of Directors of the Genetic Alliance and as NSGC’s liaison to the National Advisory Council for Human Genome Research.

Last Name: 
Uhlmann

Michael Fetters, MD, MPH, MA

Naomi Laventhal, MD, MA

Faculty

Dr. Naomi T. Laventhal joined the University of Michigan in August 2009, after completing her residency in pediatrics, fellowships in neonatology and clinical medical ethics, and a master’s degree in public policy at the University of Chicago. She is a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases in the Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, and in the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine (CBSSM).

Last Name: 
Laventhal

Andrew Shuman, MD

Faculty

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.

Research Interests: 
Last Name: 
Shuman

The Privileged Choices (Jan-08)

What's the difference between opting in and opting out of an activity? Who decides if people will be put automatically into one category or another? Click this interactive decision to learn how default options work.

Scenario 1

Imagine that you're a US Senator and that you serve on the Senate's Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The Infectious Diseases Society of America has come before your committee because they believe that too many health care workers are getting sick with influenza ("flu") each year and infecting others. As a result, your Senate committee is now considering a new bill that would require that all health care workers get annual influenza vaccinations ("flu shots") unless the worker specifically refuses this vaccination in writing.

Do you think you would support this bill for mandatory flu shots for health care workers?

  • Yes
  • No

Scenario 2

Imagine that you're the human resources director at a mid-sized company that's initiating an employee retirement plan. Management is concerned that many employees are not saving enough for retirement. They're considering a policy that would automatically deduct retirement contributions from all employees' wages unless the employee fills out and submits a form requesting exemption from the automatic deductions.

Do you think a policy of automatic retirement deductions is reasonable for your company to follow?

  • Yes 
  • No

Scenario 3

Organ transplants save many lives each year, but there are always too many deserving patients and too few organs available. To try to improve the number of organs available for donation, the state legislature in your state is considering a new policy that all people who die under certain well-defined circumstances will have their organs donated to others. The system would start in three years, after an information campaign. People who do not want to have their organs donated would be given the opportunity to sign a refusal of organ donation when they renewed their drivers' licenses or state ID cards, which expire every three years. Citizens without either of these cards could also sign the refusal at any drivers' license office in the state. This is a policy similar to ones already in place in some European countries.

Does this seem like an appropriate policy to you?

  • Yes 
  • No

How do your answers compare?

For many decisions in life, people encounter default options-that is, events or conditions that will be set in place if they don't actively choose an alternative. Some default options have clear benefits and are relatively straightforward to implement, such as having drug prescriptions default to "generic" unless the physician checks the "brand necessary" box. Others are more controversial, such as the automatic organ donation issue that you made a decision about.

Default options can strongly influence human behavior. For example, employees are much more likely to participate in a retirement plan if they're automatically enrolled (and must ask to be removed, or opt out) than if they must actively opt in to the plan. Researchers have found a number of reasons for this influence of default options, including people's aversion to change.

But default options can seem coercive also. So, an Institute of Medicine committee recently recommended against making organ donation automatic in the US. One reason was the committee's concern that Americans might not fully understand that they could opt out of donation or exactly how they could do so.

The policy scenarios presented to you here have been excerpted from a 2007 article in the New England Journal of Medicine titled "Harnessing the Power of Default Options to Improve Health Care," by Scott D. Halpern, MD, PhD, Peter A. Ubel, MD, and David A. Asch, MD, MBA. Dr. Ubel is the Director of the Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences in Medicine.

This article provides guidance for policy-makers in setting default options, specifically in health care. Generally, default options in health care are intended to promote the use of interventions that improve care, reduce the use of interventions that put patients at risk, or serve broader societal agendas, such as cost containment.

In this NEJM article, the researchers argue that default options are often unavoidable-otherwise, how would an emergency-room physician decide on care for an uninsured patient? Many default options already exist but are hidden. Without either returning to an era of paternalism in medicine or adopting a laissez-faire approach, the authors present ways to use default options wisely but actively, based on clear findings in the medical literature.

Some examples of default policies that may improve health care quality:

  • routine HIV testing of all patients unless they opt out.
  • removal of urinary catheters in hospital patients after 72 hours unless a nurse or doctor documents why the catheter should be retained.
  • routine ventilation of all newly intubated patients with lung-protective settings unless or until other settings are ordered.

Drs. Halpern, Ubel, and Asch conclude, "Enacting policy changes by manipulating default options carries no more risk than ignoring such options that were previously set passively, and it offers far greater opportunities for benefit."

Read the article:

Harnessing the power of default options to improve health care.
Halpern SD, Ubel PA, Asch DA. New England Journal of Medicine 2007;357:1340-1344.

Ken Langa, MD, PhD

Faculty

Dr. Langa is the Cyrus Sturgis Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and Institute for Social Research, a Research Scientist in the Veterans Affairs Center for Clinical Management Research, and an Associate Director of the Institute of Gerontology, all at the University of Michigan. He is also Associate Director of the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), a National Institute on Aging funded longitudinal study of 20,000 adults in the United States ( http://hrsonline.isr.umich.edu ).

Last Name: 
Langa

How much will chemotherapy really help you? (Dec-08)

After breast cancer surgery, additional treatments such as chemotherapy can reduce the risk of cancer coming back. But do women understand how much (or little) benefit chemotherapy provides? Imagine that you're a woman who has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and then had the cancerous breast tumor surgically removed. While you're at an appointment about 3 weeks after your surgery, your doctor says the following to you:

"Sometimes cancer cells remain after surgery and start to grow again. To try to prevent your cancer from growing again, you should consider having some additional treatment.

"One of our test results shows that you have a type of cancer that is estrogen receptive (ER) positive. This means that your cancer needs the hormone estrogen in order to grow.

"Because you have an ER-positive tumor, you should have hormonal therapy to block estrogen and make it harder for any remaining cancer cells to grow. Hormonal therapy is usually in pill form. It does not cause hair loss or fatigue and generally has very few short-term side effects. You'll start to take hormonal therapy after all other treatments are finished and continue to take it for at least 5 years.

"Although it's clear that you should have hormonal therapy, you'll still need to make a choice about chemotherapy treatments. You could decide to have additional chemotherapy treatments for several months before starting the hormonal therapy. Sometimes, adding chemotherapy can make a big difference in decreasing the risk of dying from cancer. Other times, there's almost no benefit from adding chemotherapy.

"If you decide to have chemotherapy, you'll have 2 to 4 months of fatigue, nausea, hair loss, and other side effects. You'll also face a small risk (less than 1% or less than 1 in 100) of getting a serious infection, a bleeding problem, heart failure, or leukemia. Only you can decide if the benefit of adding chemotherapy to hormonal therapy is worth the risks and side effects."

Next, your doctor shows you a graph that may help you to decide about chemotherapy.

Your doctor says, "The graph below may help you decide if the risk reduction you would get from adding chemotherapy is worth the side effects and risks that the chemotherapy would cause.

  • The green part shows the chance that you'll be alive in 10 years.
  • The red part shows the chance that you'll die because of cancer.
  • The blue part shows the chance that you'll die from other causes.
  • The yellow part shows how much your chance of being alive in 10 years would increase if you add a therapy.
"Remember, given your situation, I think you should definitely take hormonal therapy. What you need to decide is whether to take both chemotherapy and hormonal therapy."
 
In interpreting this graph, imagine that there are two groups of 100 women each. All of these women have the same type of cancer as your hypothetical cancer.
  • The first group all decides to take hormonal therapy only.
  • The second group all decides to take both chemotherapy and hormonal therapy

How many fewer women will die from cancer in the second group, as compared with the first group?

Your doctor continues, "Now, here is another graph that shows the same information in a different way. As before,

  • The green part shows the chance that you'll be alive in 10 years.
  • The red part shows the chance that you'll die because of cancer.
  • The blue part shows the chance that you'll die from other causes.
  • The yellow part shows how much your chance of being alive in 10 years would increase if you add a therapy.
Now we asked you to consider the following question:
How many fewer women will die from cancer in the second group, as compared with the first group?
Do you want to change your answer?
 

About the study

Many participants who saw this graph in a study conducted by CBDSM researchers had similar problems. However, when study participants saw GRAPH B (with the two pictographs), many more were able to correctly calculate the difference.

The CBDSM study compared tools intended to help cancer patients make informed decisions about additional therapies (also called "adjuvant" therapies). The 4 horizontal stacked bars were taken from an online tool called "Adjuvant!" that is often used by physicians to explain risk to cancer patients. The researchers compared comprehension of risk statistics from horizontal bars and from a pictograph format.

They found that study participants who viewed a 2-option pictograph version (GRAPH B in this Decision of the Month) were more accurate in reporting the risk reduction achievable from adding chemotherapy to hormonal therapy for the hypothetical cancer scenario. With GRAPH B, 77% of participants could identify that 2 fewer women out of 100 would die from cancer with both chemotherapy and hormonal therapy. With the 4 horizontal bars (GRAPH A), only 51% of participants could make this calculation. Participants who saw GRAPH B were also much faster at answering this question than participants who saw GRAPH A.
In addition, participants in this study strongly preferred the format of the pictograph you saw (GRAPH B) to the bar graphs you saw (GRAPH A).
The researchers comment:
"While decision support tools such as Adjuvant! use graphical displays to communicate the mortality risks that patients face with different adjuvant therapy options, our research shows that women had difficulty interpreting the 4-option horizontal bar graph format currently used by Adjuvant!. Two simple changes, displaying only risk information related to treatment options that included hormonal therapy...and using pictographs instead of horizontal bars, resulted in significant improvements in both comprehension accuracy and speed of use in our demographically diverse sample....The results...support the concept that simpler information displays can make it easier for decision makers to implement optimal decision strategies. Specifically, focusing patients' attention on those treatment options currently under consideration while removing information related to options which have been already eliminated from consideration (for medically appropriate reasons) may be particularly beneficial. In the context of adjuvant therapy decisions, such an approach would imply that clinicians should discuss the decision in two stages: A first stage in which hormonal therapy is considered and a second stage in which the incremental benefit of chemotherapy is evaluated...Adjuvant! and other online risk calculators enable oncologists and patients to receive individually tailored estimates of mortality and recurrence risks, information that is essential to informed decision making about adjuvant therapy questions. Yet, the full potential of these modeling applications cannot be realized if users misinterpret the statistics provided."
 
Read the article:
Zikmund-Fisher BJ, Fagerlin A, Ubel PA. Cancer 2008;113(12):3382-3390.

 

The August 2016 issue of AMA Journal of Ethics features commentaries by Christian Vercler, Lauren Smith, and Andrew Shuman.

"Is Consent to Autopsy Necessary? Cartesian Dualism in Medicine and Its Limitations"
Commentary by Megan Lane and Christian J. Vercler

"I Might Have Some Bad News: Disclosing Preliminary Pathology Results"
Commentary by Michael H. Roh and Andrew G. Shuman

"Requests for VIP Treatment in Pathology: Implications for Social Justice and Systems-Based Practice"
Commentary by Virginia Sheffield and Lauren B. Smith

http://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/site/current.html

Research Topics: 
Tue, April 08, 2014

Lewis Morgenstern’ s stroke education study offered in public schools in Texas to help children recognize symptoms of stroke is cited by Yahoo News, NPR, Fox News, and many other news outlets. Morgenstern was quoted, "The data was highly positive in terms of knowledge about stroke and their intention to call 911... The earlier we can make people aware of stroke and that it's arguably the most treatable of all catastrophic conditions, the better off we will be."
 

Research Topics: 

Susan Goold, MD, MHSA, MA

Faculty

Susan Dorr Goold, M.D., M.H.S.A., M.A., studies the allocation of scarce healthcare resources, especially the perspectives of patients and the public. Results from projects using the CHAT (Choosing Healthplans All Together) allocation game have been published and presented in national and international venues. CHAT won the 2003 Paul Ellwood Award and Dr. Goold is listed in the Foundation for Accountability's database of Innovators and Visionaries. Dr.

Last Name: 
Goold

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