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Joseph Colbert, BA

Research Associate

Joseph joined CBSSM as a Research Area Specialist in November 2017. As a project manager, he coordinates the daily operations of Dr. Jeffrey Kullgren’s project “Provider, Patient, and Health System Effects of Provider Commitments to Choose Wisely,” a grant funded research project using novel approaches to reduce the overuse of low-value services in healthcare.

Last Name: 
Colbert

Announcement of Position: Faculty Ethicist

Announcement of Position: Faculty Ethicist


Background
The Clinical Ethics Service within the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine (CBSSM) promotes a culture of patient-centered excellence by performing a comprehensive set of ethics-related activities. The aims of this service are to: liaise with and provide support to the adult and pediatric ethics committees; provide clinical ethics consultation and engage in preventative ethics endeavors; assist with ethics-related policy development on a regular and proactive basis; organize and administer structured educational programs in clinical ethics; and coordinate empiric research with relevance to clinical ethics within CBSSM.

Program Organization
The Clinical Ethics Service is led by Christian J. Vercler, MD MA and Andrew G. Shuman, MD. A dedicated clinical ethicist will manage the program on a daily basis. A cadre of faculty ethicists will rotate on service throughout the year and work closely with the clinical ethicist. Trainees and students will rotate as well. Dedicated administrative support is organized through CBSSM.


Position
The Clinical Ethics Service employs a roster of faculty ethicists who are responsible for staffing ethics consultations arising from any of the clinical venues (inpatient and outpatient; adult and pediatric) within Michigan Medicine during their time on service. They will supervise and participate in the institutional educational endeavors and preventative ethics rounds in a regular and on-going manner. Faculty ethicists will also develop and provide clinical rotations for medical students and house officers on a cohesive ethics service. Each faculty member will be expected to rotate on service for four to six weeks per year, and attend/participate in committee meetings and other events throughout the academic year (this will not necessarily require suspension of other activities when on-service). Depending on the total number appointed, each faculty ethicist will receive $15,000-$20,000 of direct salary support annually, to be distributed and allocated in conjunction with their home department. The initial appointment will last two and a half years and is renewable. Additional appointments will last two years.


Qualifications
Candidates are expected to have faculty appointments at University of Michigan and be in good academic standing; any professional background is acceptable. Candidates are expected to have qualifications that meet the standards outlined by The American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH) for accreditation for clinical ethics consultants. Direct experience with clinical ethics consultation is required. Familiarity with ethics education and related clinical research would be helpful. Excellent organizational and communication skills across multidisciplinary medical fields are required.


Application Process
Candidates will be vetted and chosen by a selection committee. Candidates are asked to submit:

  • Curriculum vitae or resume
  • One page maximum summary of (1) education/training related to ethics consultation; (2) clinical ethics consultation experience; and (3) motivation/interest in the position
  • Letter of support from Department Chair/Division Head/Center Director or equivalent
  • Submit formal application via email to: lynnam@med.umich.edu


Timeline

  • Application is due September 25, 2017
  • Appointment will take effect January 1, 2018

Contacts

  • Leaders of the Clinical Ethics Service: Christian J. Vercler, MD MA & Andrew G. Shuman, MD
  • Administrative contact: Valerie Kahn – valkahn@med.umich.edu 734 615 5371

Adult Ethics Committee

The Michigan Medicine Committee advisory groups are appointed by the Hospital's Office of Clinical Affairs. They review ethical or moral questions that may come up during an adult patient's care. The consultants facilitate communication among adult patients, their families and the treatment team to assist everyone in making appropriate choices when difficult decisions need to be made. The Committee's goal is to help everyone decide the right thing to do. The Michigan Medicine Adult Ethics Committee is a sub-committee of the Executive Committee on Clinical Affairs as determined by the Medical Staff Bylaws.

About Us

Sometimes patients, families and staff have very difficult choices and ethical questions they need to talk about. Discussions with the Ethics Committee can be helpful and reassuring when a difficult choice must be made (for example, questions on end-of-life care, or issues of confidentiality). The goal of the Committee is to facilitate communication among adult patients, their families and the treatment team to assist everyone in making appropriate choices, as well as to assist Michigan Medicine in complying with ethical regulatory standards, when difficult decisions need to be made. The Committee provides consultation to the treatment team, patients and families on ethical, moral or philosophical problems and issues encountered in the course of managing inpatient and outpatient care.

Committee members include physicians, residents, nurses and social workers, as well as medical students, an attorney/compliance officer, a chaplain, a medical ethics professor and members from the community.

The Adult Ethics Committee meets on the third Tuesday of the month, form 12-1:30pm, at University Hospital in dining room D, if you would like to attend as a guest, please contact Amy Lynn @ lynnam@med.umich.edu

What happens when a meeting with the Ethics Committee is requested?

The consultants on call review the patient's medical situation and treatment options. In addition, concerns and feelings of the patient, family members, and the health care team are discussed. Members of the committee may visit with patients, families and medical personnel to discuss these concerns.

Ethics Committee members discuss the information which has been gathered. The Ethics Committee makes suggestions about the best course of action. Often there are a number of options available in the course of a patient's care. Final decisions are made by the patient, family and the health care team.

Request a Consult

Monday-Friday
8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Call 734-615-1379
After normal business hours, please call 936-6267 and ask for the clinical ethicist on call to be paged.

Resources

Financial Assistance

Non-Beneficial Treatment

Advance Directives

Committee Bylaws

 

For upcoming Bioethics Grand Rounds see Events

Pediatric Ethics Committee

The Michigan Medicine Committee advisory groups are appointed by the Hospital's Office of Clinical Affairs. They review ethical or moral questions that may come up during a pediatrics patient's care. The consultants facilitate communication among patients, their families and the treatment team to assist everyone in making appropriate choices when difficult decisions need to be made. The Committee's goal is to help everyone decide the right thing to do. The Michigan Medicine Ethics Committee is a sub-committee of the Executive Committee on Clinical Affairs as determined by the Medical Staff Bylaws. 

About Us


The committee is available for consultation to family members, patients, staff, and health care providers. The committee may help you and your child’s medical team clarify facts, examine ethical issues, and assist in the resolution of disagreements about your child’s care. The committee includes people with additional training in medical ethics, doctors, nurses, social workers, a lawyer, a chaplain, an administrator, and members of the community
The University of Michigan has a Pediatric Ethics Committee because the best medical care requires not only medical skill but good moral judgment. The Committee’s main purpose is to offer help and guidance on moral and ethical questions, such as:

  • Should treatment be started or stopped?
  • How much should a child be told about his or her disease?
  • Is the promise of treatment worth the suffering it may cause?
  • What is the best thing to do when we must face the end of life?
  • What happens when a meeting with the Ethics Committee is requested?

The consultants on call review the patient's medical situation and treatment options. In addition, concerns and feelings of the patient, family members, and the health care team are discussed. Members of the committee may visit with patients, families and medical personnel to discuss these concerns.

Ethics Committee members discuss the information which has been gathered. The Ethics Committee makes suggestions about the best course of action. Often there are a number of options available in the course of a patient's care. Final decisions are made by the patient, family and the health care team.

The Pediatric Ethics Committee meets on the first Tuesday of the month from 12-1:30pm at University Hospital in dining rooms C&D. If you would like to attend as a guest, please contact Amy Lynn @ lynnam@med.umich.edu

Request a Consult

Monday-Friday
8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Call 734-615-1379
After normal business hours, please call 936-6267 and ask for the clinical ethicist on call to be paged.

Resources

Financial Assistance

Non-Beneficial Treatment

Committee Bylaws

 

For upcoming Bioethics Grand Rounds see Events

 

Bioethics Grand Rounds

CBSSM’s Clinical Ethics Service sponsors the monthly Bioethics Grand Rounds, focusing on ethical issues arising in health care and medicine. This educational session is open to Michigan Medicine faculty and staff and CME credit is available.

Link to previous Bioethics Grand Rounds:

Funded by VA Health Services Research and Development Career Development Award

Funding Years: 2015-2019

Heart attack and stroke, which together are called cardiovascular disease, cause over 1/3 of all deaths in VA patients. The current guidelines for the prevention of these conditions focus on lowering patients'blood pressure and cholesterol levels. A new treatment strategy, which I call benefit-based tailored treatment, that instead guides treatment decisions based on the likelihood that a medication would prevent a heart attack or stroke could prevent more cardiovascular disease, with lower medication use, and be more patient centered. The purpose of this Career Development Award is to develop and assess tools and approaches that could enable the implementation of benefit-based tailored treatment of cardiovascular disease, in particular a decision support tool and educational program for clinicians and a performance profiling system. The decision support tool will enable better care by showing clinicians patient-specific estimates of the likelihood that their medication decisions will prevent a cardiovascular disease event. The performance profiling system will encourage better care by assessing the quality of care provided at VA sites and in PACT teams based on how well the medical care provided follows this treatment strategy. The project will have three aims:
Aim 1 : In the first aim, I will seek to understand clinicians' and patients' perceptions of and receptivity to the use of benefit-based tailored treatment for cardiovascular disease. Information gained from qualitative research with clinicians will help assess and improve the usability and effectiveness of the decision support tool and educational program for clinicians, along with the acceptability of the treatment strategies in general. Information gained from focus groups with patients will help learn their priorities in cardiovascular disease prevention, to help identify ways to make the interventions and their assessments more patient-centered.
Aim 2 : In the second aim, the decision support tool and educational program will be assessed in a real-world randomized pilot study involving thirty clinicians. Half of the clinicians will be provided the decision support tool and education intervention for ten patients each, the other half will receive a traditional quality improvement program and treatment reminders. The study will have formative goals of ensuring that clinicians and patients believe the tool is valuable and does not disrupt care processes or workflow for anyone in the PACT team. This will be studied with qualitative and survey assessments. The primary summative outcome will be the influence of the intervention on clinicians'treatment decisions. Secondary outcomes will assess patients'satisfaction with their visits and their clinicians.
Aim 3 : The third aim will develop and evaluate a novel performance measurement system based on benefit- based tailored treatment. First, the performance profiling system will be developed. Then the profiling system's ability to reliably differentiate high quality from low-quality care will be evaluated.

PI: Jeremy Sussman

Funded by: NIH

Funding Years: 2016-2021

 

There is a fundamental gap in understanding how Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) influences treatment and Decision Making for serious illnesses, like Cardiovascular disease (CVD), in older patients. Poor understanding of Clinical Decision Making is a critical barrier to the design of interventions to improve the quality and outcomes of CVD care of in older patients with MCI. The long-term goal of this research is to develop, test, and disseminate interventions aimed to improve the quality and outcomes of CVD care and to reduce CVD-related disability in older Americans with MCI. The objective of this application is to determine the extent to which people with MCI are receiving sub-standard care for the two most common CVD events, Acute myocardial infarction (AMI) and acute ischemic stroke, increasing the chance of mortality and morbidity in a population with otherwise good quality of life, and to determine how MCI influences patient preferences and physician recommendations for treatment. AMI and acute ischemic stroke are excellent models of serious, acute illnesses with a wide range of effective therapies for acute management, Rehabilitation, and secondary prevention. Our central hypothesis is that older Adults with MCI are undertreated for CVD because patients and physicians overestimate their risk of dementia and underestimate their risk of CVD. This hypothesis has been formulated on the basis of preliminary data from the applicants' pilot research. The rationale for the proposed research is that understanding how patient preferences and physician recommendations contribute to underuse of CVD treatments in patients with MCI has the potential to translate into targeted interventions aimed to improve the quality and outcomes of care, resulting in new and innovative approaches to the treatment of CVD and other serious, acute illnesses in Adults with MCI. Guided by strong preliminary data, this hypothesis will be tested by pursuing two specific aims: 1) Compare AMI and stroke treatments between MCI patients and cognitively normal patients and explore differences in Clinical outcomes associated with treatment differences; and 2) Determine the influence of MCI on patient and surrogate preferences and physician recommendations for AMI and stroke treatment. Under the first aim, a health services research approach- shown to be feasible in the applicants' hands-will be used to quantify the extent and outcomes of treatment differences for AMI and acute ischemic stroke in older patients with MCI. Under the second aim, a multi-center, mixed-methods approach and a national physician survey, which also has been proven as feasible in the applicants' hands, will be used to determine the influence of MCI on patient preferences and physician recommendations for AMI and stroke treatment. This research proposal is innovative because it represents a new and substantially different way of addressing the important public health problem of enhancing the health of older Adults by determining the extent and causes of underuse of effective CVD treatments in those with MCI. The proposed research is significant because it is expected to vertically advance and expand understanding of how MCI influences treatment and Decision Making for AMI and ischemic stroke in older patients. Ultimately, such knowledge has the potential to inform the development of targeted interventions that will help to improve the quality and outcomes of CVD care and to reduce CVD-related disability in older Americans.

PI: Deborah Levine

CO(s): Darin Zahuranec, MD & Ken Langa, MD, PhD

Supporting information for: 2012 CBSSM Research Colloquium

Making a baby in the 21st century: An updated user manual

Presenting author: Melissa Constantine, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, CBSSM

Genetic testing has had a major role in prenatal care for decades.  Aneuploidy screening tests use non-invasive measurements of maternal serum markers to indicate whether a fetus is at increased risk for Down syndrome (trisomy 21) and Edward syndrome (trisomy 18), chromosomal abnormalities for which there are no curative or interventional treatments.  Prenatal screening is often a starting point on a pathway of decision making regarding invasive testing – with associated non-negligible miscarriage risks – and the termination of pregnancy.  As such, decisions to accept or refuse prenatal screening are preference sensitive and patient informed consent or informed refusal is warranted.

In the last year, new methods of genetic analysis for fetal diagnosis for multiple conditions have been introduced for clinical use, and the array of detectable fetal conditions is expanding.  Clinically, the new methods substantially improve on current diagnostic protocols; they are non-invasive, safe, easy to use, have sensitivity and specificity approaching 100% and can be administered as early as 7-10 weeks gestation.  Yet the uptake of a prenatal diagnostic testing for genetic conditions will continue to be a value-laden, preference sensitive choice and the need for informed consent will remain.

Ostensibly, the purpose of offering testing and the subsequent decision is to increase a woman’s control in her reproductive choices.  Some characteristics of the new testing technologies, such as earlier, confirmatory diagnosis, may enhance this control, although research on the process and experience of decision making for prenatal testing has consistently identified several aspects of current testing protocols that actually diminish control and obfuscate the perception of choice.  This presentation will explore how the clinical integration of the new genetic tests may mitigate, or exacerbate, women’s control in decision making and choice for prenatal diagnosis.

Dr. Melissa Constantine earned her Ph.D. in Health Service Research from the University of Minnesota and is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine at the University of Michigan.  Dr. Constantine’s work in measurement and psychometrics includes development and validation of health-related scales such as the Pelvic Organ Prolapse and Incontinence Sexual Questionnaire (PISQ-IR).  Her research interests focus on the ethical and social implications of the clinical integration of prenatal genetic tests.

 

Using community-based participatory research and user-centered design approaches in developing an interactive diabetes decision aid

Presenting authors: Vida A. Henderson, PharmD, MPH, MFA, Center for Health Communications Research; and Deliana Ilarraza

Co-authors: Kathryn LC Barr, MPH; Lawrence An, MD; William Newhouse; Michele Heisler, MD, MPH

Background: Together, community-based participatory research (CBPR), user-centered design (UCD) and health information technology (HIT) offer promising approaches to improve health disparities.

Objectives: This presentation will describe the application of CBPR and UCD principles to the development of iDecide/Decido, an interactive, tailored, web-based decision aid delivered by community health workers (CHWs) to African-American and Latino participants with diabetes in Southwest and Eastside Detroit. The decision aid is offered in English or Spanish and is delivered on an iPad in participants’ homes.

Methods: The overlapping principles of CBPR and UCD used to develop iDecide/Decido include: a community or user-focused approach; equitable academic and community partnership in all study phases; an iterative development process that relies on input from all stakeholders; and a program experience that is specified, adapted, and implemented with the target community.

Results: Collaboration between community members, researchers, and developers are especially evident in the program’s: design concept, animations, pictographs, issue cards, goal setting, tailoring, and additional CHW tools.

Conclusions:  Applying the principles of CBPR and UCD can be successfully employed in developing health information tools that are easy to use and understand, interactive, and target health disparities.

Vida Henderson, PharmD, MPH, MFA, currently works with the behavioral science team at the Center for Health Communications Research where she writes and tests tailored content for multi-media health behavior interventions. She has worked as a clinical pharmacist providing health education and medication counseling to low-income communities; and she has served as a faculty member at Xavier University of Louisiana College of Pharmacy in New Orleans.  Vida has recently received a Master of Public Health degree in Health Behavior and Health Education from the University of Michigan. Her research interests include health communications, spirituality and health, and health disparities.

Deliana Ilarraza is a Community Health Worker for the Community Health and Social Services Center (CHASS)/REACH Detroit Partnership.  Deliana works with community organizations, schools and churches, establishing sites for physical activity classes and conducting diabetes awareness and prevention programs and studies.  She has worked with the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan, the Adolescent Diabetes Health Literacy Study, and the Journey to Health diabetes management and empowerment program, facilitating workshops, teaching curricula, and evaluation.

 

Resident attitudes toward ethical and medical decision-making for neonates born at the limit of viability

Presenting author: Naomi Laventhal, MD, MA, Clinical Lecturer, Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, CBSSM faculty

Co-author: Stephanie Kukora, MD

Background: Existing guidelines call for consistent resuscitation practices for extremely preterm infants based on epidemiologic data, but appropriate frameworks for value-driven decision-making in this context are still debated. Neonatologists’ attitudes are well-studied, but those of resident physicians are poorly understood.

Objectives: To describe residents’ knowledge of our practices, attitudes toward gestational age (GA) based resuscitation thresholds, and ethically relevant considerations for decision-making at the margin of gestational viability.

Methods: We surveyed our pediatric residents anonymously, asking them to identify current practices and ideal GA thresholds for offering and insisting on resuscitation, and the importance of contributing factors in decision-making for extremely preterm infants. Results: Response rate 61% (n =36).  Many (62%) residents correctly identified 23 weeks as the lower threshold for resuscitation in our NICU (range 21 - 24), despite finding our practices inconsistent (84%) and unclear (89%). Fewer (21%) correctly identified 24 weeks as the latest GA that parents may refuse resuscitation (range 23 - 42, 32% 25 weeks, 21% 26 weeks, 16% >26 weeks). Most disagreed with our current practices, identifying a preferred older GA for the lower threshold: 48% at 24 weeks, and 18% at 25 weeks (range 23-27). Most thought the upper threshold for elective resuscitation was too low, with 24% and 28% indicating 25 and 26 weeks, respectively, and 33% ≥28 weeks (range 24-40).  Compared to current considerations, they reported scientific evidence to be undervalued (p<.0001), and attendings’ personal beliefs to be overvalued (p<.0001). Responses trended toward family social and financial situations being undervalued. 

Conclusions: Our residents recognize decision-making for extremely preterm infants that is supported by known epidemiology, but attribute it to physicians’ personal beliefs, rather than scientific evidence. This suggests educational deficits, and a need for further study in a larger sample.  Preferences for a higher GA threshold for initiating resuscitation and a wider GA range in which parents may refuse it may reflect disproportionate pessimism about preterm infants.

Dr. Naomi Laventhal joined U-M in 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.  In the Brandon Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital she cares for critically ill newborns, provides prenatal consultation for parents expecting to deliver premature infants, and teaches neonatal-perinatal medicine and bioethics to residents and medical students.  Her research is in neonatal clinical ethics, and is currently focused on decision making for infants born at the margin of gestational viability.   Dr. Kukora is a resident in Pediatrics, having completed her MD at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School.

 

Distrust of pediatricians’ sleep advice: Focus group results from the Project for African American Infant Safety

Presenting author:  Kathryn L. Moseley, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, CBSSM faculty

Co-author: Jennifer C. Sanchez, MPH

Background: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the number one cause of death for infants from birth to one year of age and can be reduced by placing the infant in the supine sleeping position. Although the number of SIDS-related deaths is decreasing, it still remains a significant issue, especially in the African American population where the supine sleep position is used less.  PrAAIS (Project for African American Infant Safety) is a randomized controlled trial promoting infant supine sleep among African American parents of newborns in Detroit, Michigan through the creation and distribution of tailored health educational materials.



Methods: We conducted six exploratory focus groups with a total of 29 African American parents of young infants to identify barriers and facilitators to infant supine sleep. 

Results: A prominent barrier that emerged during data analysis was distrust of physicians’ advice about supine sleep. This distrust stemmed from: a) skepticism of the validity of information provided by childless pediatricians, b) the paternalistic instructional style of pediatricians’ sleep advice (“you must do this”), and c), the frequent changes in sleep position recommendations that are not consistent with mothers’ lived experience, where the only rationale provided is that “studies show…”

Discussion: Parental distrust is not surprising, given these assessments.  Our results suggest that physicians may become more trustworthy sources of information about supine sleep if they: a) openly acknowledge parental confusion about the guidelines, b) provide concrete advice on methods to successfully achieve infant supine sleep in a more participatory manner, and c) place the danger of ignoring the guidelines in context through a discussion of both the relative and absolute risk to their infant of dying from SIDS or suffocation.

Dr. Kathryn Moseley is a clinical bioethicist as well as board-certified pediatrician and neonatologist.  For eleven years, Dr. Moseley was the Director of Bioethics for the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, Michigan, overseeing a busy ethics consultation service.  She joined U-M in 2002 with a joint appointment in the Program in Bioethics and the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit to conduct research on the racial differences in health care decision-making she discovered doing clinical ethics consultations and how those decisions are affected by culture and trust.  She recently received a grant from the NIH to conduct a 5-year trial of a culturally-tailored intervention to decrease the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in the African American community.  She co-chairs the Pediatric Ethics Committee and directs the ethics consultation service at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

 

What’s in a name? The effect of a disease label on parents’ decision to medicate a colicky infant

Presenting author: Laura D. Scherer, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, CBSSM and VA

Co-authors: Brian K. Zikmund-Fisher, PhD; Angela Fagerlin, PhD; Beth A. Tarini, MD

It is common for physicians to diagnose infants who have excessive regurgitation and associated crying with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).  From 1999-2004 there was a 7-fold increase in the use of prescription medications to treat GERD in infants <1 year old (Hassal, 2012).  However, clinical trials have shown that existing medications are no better than placebo in treating these symptoms (Orenstein et al., 2009) and the majority of infants grow out of this behavior without medical intervention.  Given this, it is unclear why medical treatment of GERD persists.  One possibility is that the way that physicians frame their assessment of the symptoms influences parents’ perceived need to medicate their child.  In the present study, we examined how a doctor’s explanation—in particular, the doctor’s use of the diagnostic label “GERD”—influences parents’ desire for medical interventions. To explore this question, we asked parents in the waiting room of a general pediatrics clinic to read a scenario (2x2 randomized design) in which they were asked to imagine they had an infant who cried and spit up excessively.  The scenario then described a pediatric appointment in which the infant either received a formal diagnosis of GERD, or not.  In addition, half of parents were explicitly told that existing medications are ineffective at treating the symptoms, or not.  Results showed that the presence of a GERD diagnosis made parents more interested in medicating their infant, even when they were explicitly told that the medications do not work.  Moreover, the GERD diagnosis made parents less likely to think that their infant would get better without medication, relative to parents who received no diagnosis.  In conclusion, physician labeling of normal infants as “diseased” may increase parents’ willingness to medicate their child.

Dr. Laura Scherer is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the VA Center for Clinical Management Research and the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine at the University of Michigan.  She received her PhD in Social Psychology from Washington University in St. Louis, and will soon be an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Health Sciences at the University of Missouri in Columbia.  Her interests include the impact of emotions and intuition on medical decision making, and the psychological phenomena that lead to medicalization and overtreatment.

 

Cracking the code: Ethical issues involved in the decision to undergo genetic testing

Presenting author: Lauren B. Smith, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology, CBSSM faculty

Advances in molecular diagnostics have led to the capability of sequencing an individual’s germline DNA or exome for as little as $1000. An ethical analysis and discussion of genetic testing, both historically and as it relates to this new technology, will be presented.  The discussion will include factors related to the decision to undergo testing, possible benefits and harms, and issues surrounding research protocols and commercial testing services.  The discussion will include an overview of testing for Huntington disease, breast-ovarian cancer syndromes, and Alzheimer’s disease as illustrative examples.

Dr. Lauren Smith is an Assistant 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 member of the Michigan State Medical Society Ethics Committee.  Her research interests include ethical issues in clinical medicine and pathology.

 

The myth of individual risk    

Presenting author: Ralph Stern, MD, PhD, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Internal Medicine

Co-author: Zachary Goldberger, MD

Medical decision-making often relies upon clinical prediction models to estimate individual risk.  Morbidity and mortality predictions (e.g.  Framingham for ischemic heart disease in healthy patients or APACHE for mortality in critically ill patients) are often used for treatment decisions (e.g. statins, aspirin, hypoglycemic therapy).  As such, their prognostic value carries particular importance for shared decision-making with patients and their families.  However, it remains underappreciated that clinical prediction methods were developed to analyze disease in populations, not individuals.  The notion that such models can give individual patients a unique probability of a health outcome is highly debatable.  When the goal is allocating treatments to high risk subgroups to reduce costs, these models may be useful.  But when the goal is allocating treatments to high risk individuals, none of the models should be the sole basis for clinical decisions.

 Because risk cannot be measured in an individual, there is no way to experimentally verify any of the individual predictions provided by a model.  This can only be achieved by assembling a group of patients similar to the individual in question.  That each of these groups may have a different risk means there is no such thing as individual risk, an issue identified by John Venn in 1866 and known as the reference class problem.  Different models may yield substantially different individual risk estimates.  This is an inherent limitation, which is not eliminated by inclusion of more risk factors in the model or other proposed solutions.

While these models are widely used, it remains unclear how best to apply them.  Clinicians who use these models to make patient care decisions need to be aware of their limitations. 

Dr. Ralph Stern is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the divisions of Cardiovascular Medicine and Molecular Medicine and Genetics.  His clinical interests are hypertension and medical and cancer genetics.  His research interests include risk stratification and the clinical utility of new risk factors.

Dr. Zachary Goldberger is a 4th year cardiology fellow and Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar.  His research interests center on antiarrhythmic therapy.  Specifically, he is interested in understanding the attitudes and experiences of patients receiving implantable cardioverter-defibrilators (ICDs), and creating a decision aid to enhance shared decision-making for patients receiving ICDs for primary prevention of sudden cardiac death.  He is also studying utilization of antiarrhythmic therapy and drug toxicity, as well as patterns of care in resuscitation during in-hospital cardiac arrest.  His teaching interests center on improving ECG literacy and cardiac physical examination skills in trainees.

 

The swinging gate: Genetic testing and ethical issues

Presenting author: Wendy R. Uhlmann, MS, CGC, Clinical Assistant Professor, Departments of Internal Medicine and Human Genetics

Advances in genetic testing have resulted in an exponential increase in the number of genetic tests that are available.  Given the rapid pace of genetic test introduction, few tests have practice guidelines.  As a result, healthcare professionals who order these tests and the genetic testing laboratories have gate-keeper roles with genetic testing.  Genetic tests, unlike most medical tests, present some unique considerations given the potential familial implications in addition to the fact that genetic testing is a moving target.  Communication of genetic information and genetic test results along with medical record documentation of this information raises several ethical and policy issues, including: Who needs to know?  What information should be communicated?  Who is obligated to inform whom?  What factors need to be considered in the communication of genetic information?  Cases from the University of Michigan Medical Genetics Clinic will be used to illustrate ethical issues that clinicians encounter with patients pre-testing and post-testing, including: competing obligations, testing children, carrier testing for rare autosomal recessive genetic conditions, predictive genetic testing and broader insurance issues.  Weighing risks and benefits and resolving ethical issues with genetic testing decisions and communication of test results involves consideration of the core ethical principles in addition to assessment of both professional and patient obligations.  Careful consideration is needed in weighing competing obligations.  Understanding ethical issues currently experience din genetics clinics will help guide the handling of similar and novel future challenges that will arise with advances in genetic testing and genomic medicine.

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 Assistant 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 currently serves on the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC), Medical Genetics Working Group.

In the January-February issue of IRB: Ethics & Human Research, Scott Y.H. Kim, Raymond de Vries, Renee Wilson, Sonali Parnami, Samuel Frank, Karl Kieburtz, and Robert G. Holloway present results of a study about the therapeutic orientation of research participants.

The authors examined the relationship between understanding and appreciation of randomization probabilities in 29 individuals recruited for a sham surgery controlled intervention study in Parkinson's disease. 83% provided the correct, quantitative answer to the understanding question; of those, one group (55%) answered the appreciation question correctly using quantitative terms, whereas the remaining group (45%) provided only qualitative comments.

The therapeutic orientation of research participants raises concerns about the adequacy of consent because such an orientation could cloud understanding of key elements of research. Further, even if participants understand (i.e., intellectually comprehend) elements of research, they may not appreciate them because they fail to apply such facts to themselves.

Study participants frequently made "unrealistic" probability statements, even while providing correct quantitative responses. Analysis showed that this apparent "irrationality" may in fact hide a deeper rationality -- namely, conversational rationality, which is part of the contextual nature of meaning conveyed in everyday language. Ignoring conversational rationality may lead to wrongly labeling research subjects as irrational. Click here for more information.

Michele Heisler, MD, MPA

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