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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 Health and Human Services, Department of-Agency for Health Care Research and Quality

Funding Years: 2014 - 2016.

'Value-based purchasing' is a quality improvement strategy that links payment with healthcare outcomes, by paying less or not at all for poor outcomes. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) seeks to decrease the rate of hospital-acquired complications (HAC) and readmissions by holding hospitals financially accountable using risk-adjusted rates. CMS risk-adjustment models for outcomes of mortality and readmission include patient characteristics from routine administrative discharge data (e.g., diagnosis codes) with age and gender as the only socio-demographic variables. Research suggests other important patient characteristics such as functional status, mobility and level of social support also impact patients? risk for readmission and certain complications (e.g., pressure ulcers). To date, variables such as functional status, mobility and social support have not been included in risk-adjustment models because they are not available in routine discharge data; also, socio-demographic variables (e.g., income or education, which may relate to a patient?s ability to maintain functional status and secure social support) have not been included in risk-adjustment for outcomes due to concerns that adjusting for such factors would be akin to condoning poor care delivered to vulnerable patients. In order to determine how much socio-demographic factors relate as risks for poor hospital outcomes and readmissions (as intrinsic patient factors compared to factors extrinsic to patient and a function of the hospital), a more robust patient-specific data source is required than routine discharge data. To address this question, we will utilize a unique data source to extend our prior work examining the impact of value-based purchasing programs (including non-payment of HACs) on vulnerable patients and hospitals; we will use the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study (HRS) (with detailed data such as a patient?s functional status, mobility, social support, income and educational level) linked to patient-specific Medicare claims data. Our specific aims are:

  1. To assess change in performance of our recently constructed risk-adjusted model for complications of pressure ulcers and urinary track infections as HACs after enhancement with HRS patient-specific measures (e.g., functional status, mobility, social support).
  2. To assess change in performance of CMS?s risk-adjustment models for readmission (for pneumonia, heart failure, myocardial infarction) after enhancement with HRS patient-specific measures.
  3. To evaluate the performance of the HRS-variable enhanced risk-adjustment models for HACs and readmission after replacing some HRS variables with census derived, zip-code level variables (such as median level of education, and income).
  4. Using statewide Medicare claims data; to evaluate the performance of risk-adjustment models for HACs and readmission enhanced by census-data derived zip-code level socio-demographic variables.

PI(s): Laurence McMahon Jr

Co-I(s): Timothy Hofer, Theodore Iwashyna, Kenneth Langa, Jennifer Meddings, Mary AM Rogers

Fraukje Mevissen, PhD


Fraukje Mevissen is an Assistant Professor in Applied Psychology at Maastricht University, Dept. of Work and Social Psychology. Dr. Mevissen was a Visiting Scholar at CBSSM from January-July 2014. For her PhD, she studied risk communication and risk perception regarding sexually transmitted infections among young adults at the department of Health Education and Promotion. She then continued as a postdoc researcher at the W&SP department, focusing on development and evaluation of behavioral/health interventions.

Last Name: 

Sarah Hawley, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor of internal medicine and a research investigator at the Ann Arbor VA, recently received a 3-year American Cancer Society grant totaling more than $850,000 for her proposal, "Population Based Study of Breast Cancer Decision Support Networks." The study will examine how informal decision supporters (e.g., partners, family, and friends) contribute decisions about surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy treatment, and how these roles may vary by race and ethnicity. The project will utilize existing resources from the Cancer Surveillance and Outcomes Research Team's (CanSORT) Program Project Grant "The Challenge of Individualizing Treatments for Patients with Breast Cancer," a $13 million award received from NCI in 2012. CanSORT and IHPI co-investigators on the study are Steven Katz, M.D., M.P.H., Nancy Janz, Ph.D., Jennifer Griggs, M.D., M.P.H., and Yun Li, Ph.D.

Brian Zikmund-Fisher,  Angela Fagerlin, Nicole Exe, and Knoll Larkin have been involved in the Visualizing Health Project, which has recently launched an online style guide  for communicating health data. You can check it out at:

The Visualizing Health project was a short and highly intense project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation designed to push the envelope both in considering visual designs for communicating health risk data and in developing iterative research approaches for testing them. The project involved a large team combining researchers and staff from both the University of Michigan's Center for Health Communications Research and the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine. The UM team then worked closely on a week by week basis with Thomas Goetz (former editor of Wired magazine) who envisioned the project, Tim Leong (graphic designer, author of Super Graphic), Andrea Ducas from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and teams of graphic designers that Tim recruited.

They created 16 distinct visual data display tasks related to health risks, had teams of graphic designers develop display concepts, and iteratively tested these displays using multiple online survey methodologies. The resulting designs and data were then assembled in a project website that included all the images, plus commentary and additional features such as a design "wizard" to help guide users to visual displays that best fit their personal needs.

Also, see the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of health blog.

Alan R. Tait, PhD


Dr. Tait is the Department of Anesthesiology Endowed Professor of Clinical Research. Dr. Tait is a former long-standing member of the Institutional Review Board and a current member of the Medical School Admissions Executive Committee. In addition, Dr. Tait is the Chair of the Research Committee for the Society for Pediatric Anesthesia.

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Give me colostomy or give me death! (Aug-06)

Click to decide between death and living with a colostomy. Which would you choose? Are you sure?

Given the choice, would you choose immediate death,or living with a colostomy (where part of your bowel is removed and you have bowel movements into a plastic pouch attached to your belly)?

  •  Immediate Death
  •  Colostomy

Think about what it would be like if you were diagnosed with colon cancer. You are given the option of choosing between two surgical treatments.The first is a surgery that could result in serious complications and the second has no chance of complications but has a higher mortality rate.

Possible outcome Surgery 1
Surgery 2 
Cure without complication 80% 80%
Cure with colostomy 1%  
Cure with chronic diarrhea 1%  
Cure with intermittent bowel obstruction 1%  
Cure with wound infection 1%  
No cure (death) 16% 20%

If you had the type of colon cancer described above, which surgery do you think you would choose?

  • Surgery 1
  • Surgery 2

How do your answers compare?

In fact, past research has shown that 51% people choose the surgery with a higher death rate, even though most of them initially preferred each of the four surgical complications, including colostomy, over immediate death.

Are you saying what you really mean?

CBDSM investigators Brian Zikmund-Fisher, Angela Fagerlin, Peter Ubel, teamed up with Jennifer Amsterlaw, to see if they could reduce the number of people choosing the surgery with the higher rate of death and therefore reducing the discrepancy. A large body of past research has shown that people are notoriously averse to uncertainty. The investigators had a hunch that uncertainty could account for some of the discrepancy. Surgery 1 has a greater number of ambiguous outcomes, perhaps causing people to be averse to it. In an effort to minimize this uncertainty, the investigators laid out a series of scenarios outlining different circumstances and presentations of the two surgeries. For example the research presented some of the participants with a reframing of the surgery information, such as:

Possible outcome Surgery 1
Surgery 2 
Cured without complication 80% 80%
Cured, but with one of the following complications: colostomy, chronic diarrhea, intermittent bowl obstruction, or wound infection 4%  
No cure (death) 16% 20%

The investigators believed by grouping all of the complications together that people would be more apt to chose the surgery with the lower mortality rate, because seeing a single group of undesirable outcomes, versus a list, may decrease some of the ambiguity from previous research.

Although none of the manipulations significantly reduced the percentage of participants selecting Surgery 2, the versions that yielded the lowest preference for this surgery all grouped the risk of the four possible complications into a single category, as in the example shown above.

Why these findings are important

Over the past several decades there has been a push to give patients more information so they can make decisions that are consistent with their personal preferences. On the other hand there is a growing psychological literature revealing people's tendency to make choices that are in fact inconsistent with their own preferences; this is a dilemma. Because the present research suggests that the discrepancy between value and surgery choice is extremely resilient, much research still needs to be done in order to understand what underlies the discrepancy, with the goal of eliminating it.

The research reported in this decision of the month is currently in press. Please come back to this page in the near future for a link to the article.

Read the article:

Can avoidance of complications lead to biased healthcare decisions?
Amsterlaw J, Zikmund-Fisher BJ, Fagerlin A, Ubel PA. Judgment and Decision Making 2006;1(1):64-75.




Edward Goldman, JD, BA


From 1978 to 2009, Ed was head of the U-M Health System Legal Office.  In 2009 he moved into the Medical School Department of ObGyn as an Associate Professor to work full-time on issues of sexual rights and reproductive justice.  He has teaching appointments in the Medical School, the School of Public Health, the Law School, and LSA Women's Studies.  He teaches courses on the legal and ethical aspects of medicine at the Medical School, the rules of human subjects research at the School of Public Health and reproductive justice in LSA and the Law School..  In 2011, Ed went to Ghana and helpe

Research Interests: 
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Leaving the Emergency Room in a Fog (Sep-09)

Consider this scenario:

Alfred made a visit to his local Emergency Room. What was his diagnosis? What did the medical team do for his problem? What was he supposed to do to continue care at home? And what symptoms was he supposed to watch for to alert him to return to the ER?

Alfred woke up at 4 am on Sunday morning with pain in his left foot. That place where his new running shoes had rubbed a raw spot earlier in the week was getting worse. By 9 am, the foot was red and swollen, with a large oozing sore, and Alfred decided to go to the Emergency Room at his local hospital.

Late on Sunday afternoon, Alfred returned home from the ER. He crutched his way into the house and collapsed on the sofa. His teenage son quizzed him.

"What did they say was wrong?"
"Oh, an infection," replied Alfred.
"Well, what did they do for it?"
"I think they cut a chunk out of my foot," said Alfred.
"Whoa! Did they give you any medicine?"
"Yeah, a shot," said Alfred.
"And what’s with the crutches?"
"I’m supposed to use them for a while," said Alfred, looking annoyed.
"How long a while?"
"It’s written down," said Alfred, digging a crumpled sheet of paper out of his pocket.
"Says here you should take some prescription and elevate your left leg for two days."
"Two days? I have to go to work tomorrow," groaned Alfred.
"And you’re supposed to go back to the ER if you have a fever or pain in your leg. Where’s the prescription?"
"Here, look through my wallet. Maybe I stuck it in there," said Alfred.
The good news is that Alfred recovered completely, with some assistance and cajoling from his son. But how common is it for people who go to the Emergency Room to be foggy about what happened and what they should do once they leave the ER?
What do you think is the percentage of ER patients who do not understand at least one of the following: their diagnosis, the emergency care they received, their discharge care, or their return instructions?
  • 38%
  • 48%
  • 78%
  • 88%

How do your answers compare?

A recent study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine found that 78% of emergency room patients showed deficient comprehension in at least one of these areas:
  • Diagnosis
  • Emergency care that was given
  • Post-ER care needs
  • Symptoms that would require a return to the ER
51% of patients showed deficient comprehension in two or more areas. Only 22% of reports from patients were in complete harmony with what their care teams reported in all four areas. The biggest area of misunderstanding was in patients' post-ER care needs, such as medications, self-care steps, follow-up from their regular doctors, or follow-up with specialists.
Even more alarming is that, according to the study, "most patients appear to be unaware of their lack of understanding and report inappropriate confidence in their comprehension and recall." The patients were quite sure of what they knew 80% of the time—even when what they knew was not right.
These results suggest that Emergency Room teams need to do a better job of making sure that patients go home with clear information and instructions—and that patients and their loved ones shouldn't leave until they fully comprehend their situation.
Lead author Kirsten G. Engel, MD, conducted this study, "Patient Comprehension of Emergency Department Care and Instructions," with Michele Heisler, MD, Dylan M. Smith, PhD , Claire H. Robinson, MPH, Jane H.Forman, ScD, MHS, and Peter A. Ubel, MD, most of whom are affiliated with CBDSM.
The researchers carried out detailed interviews with 140 English-speaking patients who visited one of two Emergency Departments in southeast Michigan and were released to go home. These interviews were compared with the patients' medical records, and the comparisons revealed serious mismatches between what the medical teams found or advised and what the patients comprehended.
"It is critical that emergency patients understand their diagnosis, their care, and, perhaps most important, their discharge instructions," says Kirsten Engel, a former UM Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar who is now at Northwestern University. "It is disturbing that so many patients do not understand their post-Emergency-Department care, and that they do not even recognize where the gaps in understanding are. Patients who fail to follow discharge instructions may have a greater likelihood of complications after leaving the Emergency Department."
Peter A. Ubel, the study's senior author, agrees: "Doctors need to not only ask patients if they have questions, but ask them to explain, in their own words, what they think is wrong with their health and what they can do about it. And patients need to ask their doctors more questions, and even need to explain to their doctors what they think is going on."
Read the article: