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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

David Sandberg, PhD

Faculty

Dr. Sandberg is a pediatric psychologist and clinical researcher.  As a pediatric psychologist, he delivers psychoeducational and behavioral health services to persons with endocrine disorders and their families, in particular, conditions affecting linear growth or disorders of sex development (DSD), i.e., congenital conditions in which development of sex chromosomes, gonads or sex anatomy is atypical.

Last Name: 
Sandberg

How old is too old for cancer screening? (Feb-11)

Cancer screening is generally recommended for people over the age of 50. Screening tests, such as colonoscopies, mammograms and PSAs (prostatespecific antigen), can help detect cancer at an early stage andprevent deaths. These screening tests, however, do have risks so,along with their doctor, people need to make a decision about howoften to get screened and when or if one should stop gettingscreened.

Consider the question:

Now, imagine that you were screened for cancer about a year ago and no cancer was found. You and your doctor are talking about when you should come back for screening in the future. Your doctor explains that cancer screening guidelines recommend that you do come back for more screening tests but as you get older, screening for cancer is no longer a good option. Your doctor states that you should follow this recommendation as you age. Now, imagine that you were screened for cancer about a year ago and no cancer was found. You and your doctor are talking about when you should come back for screening in the future. Your doctor explains that cancer screening guidelines recommend that you do come back for more screening tests but as you get older, screening for cancer is no longer a good option. Your doctor states that you should follow this recommendation as you age.

 
Would you plan to stop getting screening tests for cancer at a certain age?
  • Yes
  • No

How do your answers compare?

In a recent study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, CBSSM Investigators and Mick Couper and Brian J. Zikmund-Fisher, together with lead author Carmen Lewis (Department of Medicine, University of North Carolina) and several co-authors, explored decisions about stopping cancer screening tests. This study was part of the DECISIONS study, a large survey of U.S. adults about common medical decisions.
 
Recently, the US Preventive Services Task Force recommended against prostate screening for men aged 75 and older, and recommended against routine screening for CRC screening after age 75 and any CRC screening after age 85. Cancer screening for prostate cancer, CRC and breast cancer helps to detect cancer at an early stage when they are easier to treat. However, as a person gets older, the risks of these tests become larger than the benefits.
Data was collected from 1,237 individuals aged 50 and older who reported having made one or more cancer screening decisions in the past 2 years. Participants were asked about their plans of whether or not to stop cancer screening as well as characteristics of themselves and their health care provider.
 
Only 9.8% of people planned to stop getting screened for cancer when they reached a certain age. This percentage varied by type of cancer, age and race of the participant and how much the participant was responsible for the decision apart from their health care professional.
 
Of the 119 people who gave a specific age that they planned to stop getting cancer screening the average age they did or plan to stop was 74.8 for breast cancer, 76.8 for colon cancer and 82.9 for prostate cancer.
 
The study authors concluded that “plans to stop screening were uncommon among participants who had recently faced a screening decision”. They also concluded that further research is needed to understand how people think about the risks and benefits of screening when life expectancy is short and that education around this topic may be beneficial.
 

To learn more about this study, see:

 

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.

 

Are you a numbers person? (Oct-07)

Many types of medical decisions involve making sense of numbers such as test results, risk statistics, or prognosis estimates. But people vary in their ability and confidence with numbers. How would you rate your own "numeracy"?

 

Not good at all

 

 

 

 

 

Extremely good

How good are you at working with fractions?

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How good are you at working with percentages?

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How good are you at calculating a 15% tip?

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How good are you at figuring out how much a shirt will cost if it is 25% off?

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Not at all helpful

 

 

 

 

Extremely helpful

When reading the newspaper, how helpful do you find tables and graphs that are parts of a story?

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Always prefer words

 

 

 

 

Always prefer numbers

When people tell you the chance of something happening, do you prefer that they use words ("it rarely happens") or numbers ("there's a 1% chance")?

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Always prefer percentages

 

 

 

 

Always prefer words

When you hear a weather forecast, do you prefer predictions using percentages (e.g., "there will be a 20% chance of rain today") or predictions using only words (e.g., "there is a small chance of rain today")

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Never

 

 

 

 

Very often

How often do you find numerical information to be useful?

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Why is it important for researchers to know how numerate you are?

When a doctor or health educator is trying to communicate complex statistical information to a patient, it's helpful to know how well the patient understands numbers. This is called numeracy-the ability to process basic probability and numerical concepts. People low in numeracy might want or need different types of explanations than people high in numeracy.

How is numeracy measured?

In the past, researchers have used surveys similar to math tests to evaluate the levels of numeracy of participants in research studies. These objective numeracy tests can be time-consuming to administer and are often seen by the participants as stressful and annoying. As an alternative, a CBDSM research team-including Angela Fagerlin, Brian Zikmund-Fisher, Dylan Smith, Aleksandra Jankovic, and Peter Ubel-recently designed and tested an eight-item self-assessment tool, called the Subjective Numeracy Scale (SNS), to measure numeracy. As you saw when you completed the tool, four of the questions on the SNS measure people's beliefs about their skill in performing various mathematical operations, and four measure people's preferences about the presentation of numerical information. When the CBDSM team tested the SNS, they found that it was moderately correlated with objective numeracy tests. In a variety of risk communication and preference elicitation tasks, the SNS also predicted people's behavior almost as well as an objective numeracy test did. The advantage of the SNS is that it is quick to administer and is less stressful to participants than objective tests. In addition, only the SNS is recommended for phone or Internet administration. The researchers also found that study participants who completed the SNS were much more likely to answer all the numeracy questions and were much more likely to say that they would be willing to participate in an additional research study.

Are their broader implications?

Research has shown that many Americans, including highly educated individuals, have low levels of numeracy. Low numeracy has significant implications for people's health care, especially when it comes to understanding the risks and benefits of treatments. Although we may not easily change people's numeric ability, it may be possible to create health education materials that help patients with low numeracy skills. Several CBDSM researchers are have been pursuing this subject.

Read the articles:

Measuring numeracy without a math test: development of the subjective numeracy scale (SNS).
Fagerlin A, Zikmund-Fisher BJ, Ubel PA, Jankovic A, Derry HA, Smith DM. Medical Decision Making 2007;27(5):672-680.

Validation of the subjective numeracy scale (SNS): Effects of low numeracy on comprehension of risk communications and utility elicitations.
Zikmund-Fisher BJ, Smith DM, Ubel PA, Fagerlin A. Medical Decision Making 2007;27(5):663-671.

Making numbers matter: Present and future research in risk communication.
Fagerlin A, Ubel PA, Smith DM, Zikmund-Fisher BJ. American Journal of Health Behavior 2007;31(Suppl. 1):S47-S56.

 

 

Get it out of me! (Dec-05)

A 5% chance of death or a 10% chance of death:  which would you choose?

Imagine that you have been diagnosed with a slow growing cancer. Right now, the cancer is not causing you to feel sick. For most people, the cancer will grow so slowly it will never cause them any trouble. For others, the cancer will grow to the point that it makes them sick. Untreated, five percent (5 out of 100) will die of the cancer. Your doctor tells you that you have two treatment options: watchful waiting or surgery. Watchful waiting means you will not do any treatment right away, but your doctor will follow your cancer closely and treat any symptoms that you have if it begins to spread. Although it would be too late to be cured, you would be comfortable and free of pain. There are no side effects to watchful waiting, but five percent (5 out of 100) of the people who choose this treatment will develop symptoms and die from their cancer within five years. On the other hand, the surgery would cure your cancer permanently. Following surgery you will feel more tired than usual and will experience stomach upset occasionally for the three months following your surgery. However, surgery has a ten percent (10 out of 100) risk of death during the surgery.

Imagine that both of these treatments are completely covered by your health insurance. Which would you choose?

  •  I would not take the surgery and accept the 5% chance of dying from this cancer.
  •  I would take the surgery and accept the 10% chance of dying from the surgery.

How do your answers compare?

In the real world, cancer patients sometimes choose treatments that may have devastating side effects over less invasive, yet equally or more effective, approaches. One explanation for this is that people may feel a strong need to "get the cancer out" of their bodies. Surgical removal of all potentially cancerous tissues may satisfy this desire so thoroughly that people end up ignoring important statistical information about adverse outcomes.

Making a choice not in their best interest

CBDSM investigators Angela Fagerlin, Brian Zikmund-Fisher, and Peter Ubel hypothesized that people perceive cancer diagnoses as a call to action, and more specifically, a call to get rid of the cancer through surgery, regardless of what statistical information might say to the contrary. Consequently, they predicted that when presented with hypothetical cancer diagnoses, many people would say they would pursue surgery even if such an action would decrease their chance of survival.

To explore the relative frequency of people's willingness to choose surgery when it wasn't in their best interest, the investigators designed a cancer scenario similar to the one you read on the previous page. Participants were presented either a surgery or a medication treatment that would either increase or decrease their chance of survival.

The investigators found that participants who were presented with the opportunity to rid themselves of their cancer through surgery were significantly more inclined to take action than those who were presented with the medication treatment. For example, when the treatment reduced their overall chance of survival, 65% chose the surgery, whereas only 38% chose the medication treatment. This suggests that people's treatment decisions may be based not on the effectiveness of the treatments, but rather on their beliefs about how cancer should be treated. Specifically, cancer diagnoses seem to conjure up a strong desire for active treatment. And people seem to have an intuitive belief that action should not just involve treatment, but surgical removal of the cancer.

Why these findings are important

The results of this study may resonate with many clinicians who have encountered cancer patients who seem to desire treatment for treatment's sake, or who have a preference for surgical intervention even before they learn about the pros and cons of their treatment alternatives. This study should serve to remind clinicians that patients' preference for action can be strong enough, at times, to be a bias. At a minimum, it is important for health care professionals to be aware of the potential for such biases, so they can decide whether to accept patients' preferences at face value, or try to convince patients that aggressively treating a tumor may not be in their best interests.

Read the article:

Cure me even if it kills me: Preferences for invasive cancer treatment.
Fagerlin A, Zikmund-Fisher BJ, Ubel PA. Medical Decision Making 2005;25(6):614-619.

Bioethics Grand Rounds

Wed, September 28, 2016, 12:00pm
Location: 
UH Ford Amphitheater & Lobby

Carl Schneider, JD -- “Can Informed-Consent Laws Work? Evaluating Compelled Disclosure as a Method of Regulation”

Abstract: The law of informed consent is an example of a form of legal regulation called mandated disclosure.  In such regulation, one party to a transaction is required to give the other party to the transaction information to use in making decisions about the parties’ relationship.  There are hundreds of examples of such legal rules besides medical informed consent. This talk asks how well these rules have worked outside medicine. It concludes that there is little evidence that those rules ever work, explores some of the reasons for this surprising failure, and asks what the failure of mandated disclosure outside medicine tells us about the success of informed-consent laws in medicine.

Bioethics Grand Rounds: Paul Lichter, MD

Wed, November 30, 2016, 12:00pm
Location: 
UH Ford Amphitheater & Lobby

Paul Lichter, MD

The Medical-Industrial Complex is alive and well and has been that way for decades.  The Complex depends on strong cooperation from physicians.  Not only do physicians help industry to develop drugs and devices, they then take part in selling them to their fellow physicians.  The physician-as-drug-rep is driven by money and by the culture of reciprocity in our society.  This talk will review the foundations of the Medical-Industrial Complex and the reasons why it is able to control a great deal of medical practice in our country.  Physicians rarely if ever believe they are biased and Industry works hard to enforce that belief.  Money provided by Industry to physicians in essence creates a contract, however subtle, whereby physicians will sell drugs and devices for Industry.  We will discuss the ethical issues surrounding physician-industry relationships as part of the Medical-Industrial Complex.

Bioethics Grand Rounds -Anna Kirkland, JD, PhD

Wed, June 28, 2017, 12:00pm
Location: 
UH Ford Auditorium

Anna Kirkland, JD, PhD Title –  "The Vaccine Injury Compensation Court and Its Critics"

Presenter –  Anna Kirkland, JD, PhD, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Women's Studies and Political Science, University of Michigan

Abstract: The so-called vaccine court is a small special court in the United States Court of Federal Claims that handles controversial claims that a vaccine has harmed someone. The government steps in as the defendant and vaccine manufacturers are protected from liability. In this court, lawyers, activists, judges, doctors, and scientists come together, sometimes arguing bitterly, trying to figure out whether a vaccine really caused a person’s medical problem. Drawing on her recently published book, Vaccine Court: The Law and Politics of Injury (NYU Press, 2016), Prof. Anna Kirkland will discuss the ethical controversies surrounding the vaccine court, from the perspective of anti-vaccine movement activists as well as from the mainstream.

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.

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