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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.

Dr. Jeff Kullgren and Dr. John Ayanian testified before the Michigan Health Care Cost and Quality Advisory Committee regarding the feasibility of and policy options for creating an All-Payer Claims Database (APCD) in Michigan.

Established by the Healthy Michigan Legislation (PA 107 of 2013), the Committee is composed of cabinet-level leadership from the state's Departments of Community Health and Insurance and Financial Services, as well as leadership from the Michigan House and Senate Health Policy Committees. The Committee is tasked with reviewing existing efforts across the United State to make health care cost and quality more transparent. Dr. Ayanian and Dr. Kullgren shared their research and practical expertise with the Committee by discussing a broad range of issues related to the feasibility of an APCD in Michigan, including governance structure; funding sources; data collection, storage, and security issues; and opportunities for research and innovation. 

[ From IHPI Policy Corner]

2018 CBSSM Research Colloquium and Bishop Lecture (Barbara Koenig, PhD)

Tue, May 01, 2018, 8:30am
Location: 
Henderson Room, Michigan League, 911 N. University Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI

The Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine (CBSSM) Research Colloquium was held Tuesday, May 1, 2018 at the Henderson Room, Michigan League, 911 N. University Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI 48109.

The CBSSM Research Colloquium featured the Bishop Lecture in Bioethics as the keynote address. Barbara Koenig, PhD presented the Bishop Lecture with a talk entitled: “Does Enhancing Individual Choice and Control Promote Freedom? Challenges in Contemporary Bioethics."

Barbara A. Koenig, Ph.D. is Professor of Bioethics and Medical Anthropology, based at the Institute for Health & Aging, University of California, San Francisco. She is the Director of “UCSF Bioethics,” a nascent program that spans ethics research, clinical ethics, and ethics education across the university’s four professional schools. Prof. Koenig pioneered the use of empirical methods in the study of ethical questions in science, medicine, and health. Prof. Koenig’s current focus is emerging genomic technologies, including biobanking policy and using deliberative democracy to engage communities about research governance. Her work has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1991. Currently, she: 1) directs the ELSI component of a NICHD award focused on newborn screening in an era of whole genome analysis, 2) is P.I. of UCSF’s Program in Prenatal and Pediatric Genomic Sequencing (P3EGS), part of the CSER2 national network, and, 3) is supported by NCI to conduct an “embedded ethics” study of the Athena “Wisdom” PCORI-funded clinical trial of genomic risk-stratified breast cancer prevention. Previously, she directed an NHGRI-funded “Center of Excellence” in ELSI Research. Prof. Koenig was the founding executive director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University; she created and led the Bioethics Research Program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco joint program in Medical Anthropology. She is an active participant in policy, having served on the ethics committee that advises the director of the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services “Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Genetic Testing.” She recently served on a state-wide “Health Data Governance Task Force” which advised UC’s president.

The CBSSM Research Colloquium (9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) brings together presenters highlighting research related to bioethics, health communication, and medical decision making.

2018 Colloquium Schedule:
 

  • 8:30     Check in, refreshments
  • 9:05     Welcome
  • 9:10     Presentation 1: “Parent Perceptions of Antenatal Consultation for Extreme Prematurity" Stephanie Kukora, MD
  • 9:35     Presentation 2: “Hospice Care Quality in U.S. Nursing Homes Reported by Patients and Caregivers in Yelp Reviews” Chithra Perumalswami, MD, MSc
  • 10:00   Medical Student in Ethics Award: Megan Lane
  • 10:10   Presentation 3: “Impact of MCI on Patient and Care Partner Preferences and Physician Decision Making for Cardiovascular Treatment” Bailey Reale, MPH & Emilie Blair
  • 10:35   Presentation 4: “It’s all about Context: A Mixed-Methods Study of Local Context Assessment by Institutional Review Boards” Adrianne Haggins, MD
  • 11:00   Break
  • 11:15   Bishop Lecture: Barbara Koenig, PhD
  • 12:45  Lunch

Supporting information for: 2018 CBSSM Research Colloquium and Bishop Lecture (Barbara Koenig, PhD)

Parent Perceptions of Antenatal Consultation for Extreme Prematurity
Presenter: Stephanie Kukora, MD
 

Co-authors: Naomi Laventhal, MD, MA; Haresh Kirpilani, MD; Ursula Guillen, MD
 

Antenatal consultation (AC) for extreme prematurity is routine in neonatology practice, but questions remain about how best to meet the needs of expectant parents. Decision-aids have demonstrated improvement in communication of statistical outcomes, but whether they are uniformly helpful in AC, and whether provision of outcome data is essential to shared decision-making in the AC encounter remains uncertain.

To characterize the experience of parents threatened with extreme prematurity between 22 and 25 weeks gestation who received AC, identify aspects that parents perceived as favorable or unfavorable, and identify areas for improvement.

We analyzed free text responses of expectant parents enrolled in a multi-center randomized trial evaluating the use of a validated decision-aid (DA) compared to standard counseling. Qualitative thematic analysis of responses identified items valued for decision-making about delivery room resuscitation.

 201 parents were enrolled; 126 provided substantive free-text comments. 45 (36%) parents described their counseling experience positively.  31 (25%) reported a negative experience, and 23 (18%) offered suggestions for improvement.  Desire for a tailored approach was a major theme reported by many parents, with subthemes of too much or too little information, facts vs values-based counseling, and diverse learning styles.  Another major theme was shared decision-making. Subthemes included:  good or poor understanding of the decision/options; trust; parent engagement, feeling supported in decision-making.  Need for clinician sensitivity also emerged as a major theme, with subthemes of hope, thoughtful timing of AC, and identification and support of parents’ stress and emotions. 31 parents receiving AC with the DA (n=102) commented that visual depiction of the statistical information helpful.

Many parents expressed that factual information about outcomes was influential to their decisions, but some parents dislike this approach.  In addition to tailoring how and what information is communicated during AC, clinicians should be sensitive to parents’ individual needs in this context.

 

Hospice Care Quality in U.S. Nursing Homes Reported by Patients and Caregivers in Yelp Reviews

Presenter: Chithra Perumalswami, MD, MSc
 

Co-authors: Jayme Laurencelle, MD; Shawna O’Reilly, MD; Jennifer Griggs, MD, MPH; Raina Merchant, MD, MSHP
 

Background: The need to assess the quality of hospice care provided in nursing homes is a national priority. Patients and caregivers often utilize online forums such as Yelp to informally report on the experience of their healthcare episodes. These narratives are a unique data source and may provide valuable insights into the quality of care provided in U.S. nursing homes at the end of life.

Objective: To explore the content of Yelp reviews of nursing homes providing care at the end of life, specifically utilizing quality measures for palliative and hospice care determined by the National Quality Forum (NQF).

Methods: We performed a qualitative content analysis of 3421 Yelp reviews.  The reviews were double coded and the final coding scheme incorporated concepts from all of the NQF domains. Larger themes were determined by consensus.

Results: Four themes were identified: 1) staff interpersonal expertise (empathic characteristics and effective communication), 2) staff technical competence (expertise in skills, staff attention, and efficiency of response), 3) systems issues (physical facility characteristics and cleanliness), and 4) patient wellbeing (physical and emotional wellbeing, family trust and confidence in care).

Conclusion: Yelp reviews of nursing homes providing hospice identify concepts that are mostly congruent with the current NQF domains. Medicare uses the NQF domains and preferred practices in the Hospice Quality Reporting Program (HQRP) to measure and report on quality. Utilizing Yelp reviews may help to identify additional quality measures, including a more nuanced view of aspects of quality of care in nursing homes at the end of life. Future research should focus on how to make such unprompted narratives more accessible and on how to incorporate additionally identified concepts regarding quality into the HQRP.


Impact of MCI on Patient and Care Partner Preferences and Physician Decision Making for Cardiovascular Treatment

Presenters: Bailey Reale, MPH; Emilie Blair
 

Co-authors: Darin Zahuranec, MD, MS; Kenneth Langa, PhD;  Jane Forman, ScD, MHS; Bruno Giordani, PhD; Brenda Plassman, PhD; Kathleen Welsh-Bohmer, PhD; Colleen Kollman, MBA; Deborah Levine, MD, MPH
 

Background: The leading cause of death for the 5.4 million older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in the US is cardiovascular disease (CVD). Despite this, patients with pre-existing MCI may receive fewer treatments for CVD events such compared to cognitively normal patients. We conducted interviews of patients, care partners, and physicians to understand how MCI influences decision making for CVD treatments.

Methods: Qualitative study based on in-depth, semi-structured, in-person interviews with patient-care partner dyads (n=23) and physicians (n=18) using a standard guide. We used qualitative content analysis to identify unifying and recurrent themes. We gathered reflections on data suggesting neurologists recommend fewer treatments for stroke to older adults with MCI and elicited how MCI influences patient-care partner preferences for 5 common CVD treatments. We also sought to understand how a patient’s having MCI influenced physicians’ decisions to recommend these 5 CVD treatments.

Results: Most MCI patients, cognitively normal patients, and their care partners wanted all 5 stroke treatments (Table 1). Participants reported several factors affecting their decision-making for treatment (Table 1). Some participants thought that physicians might recommend fewer stroke treatments to patients with pre-existing MCI because physicians have biases about MCI patients (Table 1).

Most physicians described MCI as influencing their recommendations for CVD treatments in at least one of five ways (Table 2). Physicians reported recommending CVD treatments less to MCI patients due to their assumptions about the MCI patients and MCI itself (Table 2).

Conclusions: MCI patients have similar preferences for treatments for CVD events as do cognitively normal patients, yet physicians often recommend these treatments less often to MCI patients. We need to better understand how physician recommendations contribute to potential underuse of effective CVD treatments in MCI patients in order to improve the quality of CVD care for this large and growing population.


It’s all about Context: A Mixed-Methods Study of Institutional Review Board’s Local Context Assessment
Presenter: Adrianne Haggins, MD


Co-authors: Deneil Harney; Sacha Montas, MD, JD; Joy Black, BSN, MS; Neil Dickert, MD, PhD; Timothy Guetterman, PhD; Michael Fetters, MD; Robert Silbergleit, MD


Background: Local context assessment ostensibly allows review boards to closely consider the potential impact to study populations, the institution, and local laws and regulations.  Given the trend toward utilization of central review boards for multicenter trials, a better understanding of single institution review board assessment processes are needed.

 Objective: To explore how local context assessments in multicenter trials are made by single institution review boards.

Methods: We used a mixed methods approach to explore attitudes and perceptions of key stakeholders.  We elicited stakeholder perspectives by observing, and audiotaping IRB deliberations of trials conducted under exception from informed consent (EFIC). In-depth semi-structured interviews (n=26) and an online survey (n=80, response rate=13%) were conducted of IRB stakeholders (IRB members, central review board members, regulatory officials, etc.). Two authors independently reviewed the observations and interview transcripts to identify meaningful statements, which were grouped into codes and broader themes.  Descriptive statistics were performed on the survey results.

Results: Deliberations related to local context highlighted the importance of taking into consideration: scientific rigor, community consultation and public disclosure process, as well as local laws/regulations, weighing relative benefit vs. risk, medical standards/practices, concerns of local groups, prior experiences with investigators and within the institution.  Themes from interviews underscored the important role investigators, and IRB community members are expected to play in knowing the local population and community. Top reasons for considering local context included: knowing about community concerns, showing respect for local public, and the influence of local laws/ordinances on clinical care.

Conclusion: Local context assessment provides a mechanism to ensure research and investigators are perceptive to the concerns and impact on the broader community. A wide variety of factors are considered. To further inform central review processes, future research is needed to differentiate which factors are essential for a high-quality local context assessment.   


Does Enhancing Individual Choice and Control Promote Freedom? Challenges in Contemporary Bioethics

Bishop Lecture Keynote Presenter: Barbara Koenig, PhD
 

Over the past three decades, the discipline of bioethics has advocated for enhanced patient choice and control over a range of medical decisions, from care near the end of life to participation in clinical research. Using two current policy challenges in California—1) the advent of legally sanctioned medical aid in dying and, 2) efforts to share UC Health “big data” from the electronic health record in research with private sector partners—Professor Koenig will explore how current bioethics practices may unintentionally and ironically impede our shared goals of promoting human freedom.

 

2015 CBSSM Research Colloquium and Bishop Lecture (Lawrence O. Gostin, J.D., LL.D Hon.)

Tue, March 17, 2015, 8:30am to 4:00pm
Location: 
Alumni Center, 200 Fletcher St., Ann Arbor, MI

The Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine (CBSSM) Research Colloquium was held Tuesday, March 17, 2015 at the Founders Room, Alumni Center, 200 Fletcher St., Ann Arbor, MI.

The CBSSM Research Colloquium featured the Bishop Lecture in Bioethics as the keynote address.  Lawrence O. Gostin, J.D., LL.D (Hon.) presented the Bishop Lecture with a talk entitled: "Law, Ethics, and Public Health in the Vaccination Debates: Politics of the Measles Outbreak."

Lawrence Gostin is University Professor, Georgetown University’s highest academic rank conferred by the University President. Prof. Gostin directs the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law and is the Founding O’Neill Chair in Global Health Law. He is Professor of Medicine at Georgetown University, Professor of Public Health at the Johns Hopkins University, and Director of the Center for Law & the Public’s Health at Johns Hopkins and Georgetown Universities. Prof. Gostin is also the Director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center on Public Health Law & Human Rights.

The 2015 Research Colloquium Presentation Schedule:

  • 8:30 AM -- Check in & refreshments
  • 9:00 AM -- Welcome
  • 9:15 AM -- Aaron Scherer, PhD, CBSSM Postdoctoral Fellow: "Elephants, Donkeys, and Medicine: Political Differences in Health Risk Perceptions and Adherence to Medical Recommendations"
  • 9:45 AM -- Natalie Bartnik, MPH, Research Associate, HBHE Genetics Research Group, UM School of Public Health: "Why, how and when oncologists disclose genome sequencing results in clinical practice"
  • 10:15 AM -- Michele Gornick, PhD, MICHR PTSP Postdoctoral Fellow, VA HSRD Fellow & CBSSM Research Investigator: "Information and deliberation make a difference: The public’s preferences for the return of secondary genomic findings"
  • 10:45 AM -- Break
  • 11:00 AM -- Lawrence O. Gostin, JD, LLD (Hon.), 2015 Bishop Lecture in Bioethics: "Law, Ethics, and Public Health in the Vaccination Debates: Politics of the Measles Outbreak"
  • 12:30 PM -- Lunch
  • 1:30 PM -- Stephanie Kukora, MD and Nathan Gollehon, MD, Fellows, Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, UM Mott Children’s Hospital: "Epidemiology of outpatient prenatal consultation: implications for decision-making and perinatal outcomes"
  • 2:00 PM -- Minnie Bluhm, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor, School of Health Sciences, Eastern Michigan University: "Oncologists' decisions about administering late chemotherapy: What makes it so difficult?"
  • 2:30 PM -- Break
  • 2:45 PM -- Danielle Czarnecki, PhD Candidate, UM Department of Sociology: "Moral Women, Immoral Technologies: How Devout Women Negotiate Maternal Desires, Religion, and Assisted Reproductive Technologies"
  • 3:15 PM -- Uchenna Ezeibe, MD, Resident Physician, UMHS Department of Pediatrics & Communicable Diseases: "Pediatric Ethics Consultation Service at a Tertiary Hospital: A Retrospective Review"

Announcement of Position: Clinician Ethicist

Announcement of Position: Clinician Ethicist


Background
The Program in Clinical Ethics within the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine (CBSSM) represents an expansion of existing services designed to promote a culture of patient-centered excellence by developing a comprehensive set of ethics-related activities. The aims of this program are to: liaise with and provide support to the adult and pediatrics ethics committees; streamline clinical ethics consultation; 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 Program in Clinical Ethics is co-directed by the chairs of the adult and pediatric ethics committees and consultation services, Christian J. Vercler, MD MA and Andrew G. Shuman, MD. A dedicated clinician ethicist will manage the program on a daily basis. A cadre of eight faculty ethicists will rotate on service throughout the year and work closely with the clinician ethicist. Trainees and students will rotate as well. Dedicated administrative support will be organized through CBSSM.


Position
One individual will serve as the program’s clinical ethicist. This individual will serve as the “first responder” and contact person for all ethics consults during business hours, ensure continuity with consults, and work in conjunction with faculty ethicists. The role will include arranging team/family meetings, ensuring follow-ups on all consults, and arranging additional consultations as needed for selected cases. He/she will also regularly review relevant institutional policies and attend all ethics committee meetings. Another major component of this role will be to organize and participate in educational efforts and preventative ethics rounds. This position will provide $50,000 of direct salary support annually, to be distributed and allocated in conjunction with their home department. The initial appointment will last two years and is renewable.


Qualifications
Candidates are expected to be employees or faculty at UMHS with a master’s or equivalent terminal degree in their field; any professional background is acceptable. 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. 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.


Application Process
Candidates will be vetted, interviewed and chosen by a nomination 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: valkahn@med.umich.edu


Timeline

  • Application is due December 11, 2015 with interviews shortly thereafter
  • Appointment will take effect January 1, 2016


Contacts

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

2018 Bishop Lecture featuring Barbara Koenig, PhD

Tue, May 01, 2018, 11:15am
Location: 
Henderson Room, Michigan League, 911 N. University Avenue, Ann Arbor, MI

The 2018 Bishop Lecture in Bioethics was presented by Barbara Koenig, PhD, Professor of Bioethics and Medical Anthropology and Director of UCSF Bioethics at the University of California, San Francisco. Professor Koenig presented a talk entitled, " Does Enhancing Individual Choice and Control Promote Freedom? Challenges in Contemporary Bioethics." The Bishop Lecture serves as the keynote address during the CBSSM Research Colloquium.

Abstract: Over the past three decades, the discipline of bioethics has advocated for enhanced patient choice and control over a range of medical decisions, from care near the end of life to participation in clinical research. Using two current policy challenges in California—1) the advent of legally sanctioned medical aid in dying and, 2) efforts to share UC Health “big data” from the electronic health record in research with private sector partners—Professor Koenig will explore how current bioethics practices may unintentionally and ironically impede our shared goals of promoting human freedom.

Barbara A. Koenig, PhD is Professor of Bioethics and Medical Anthropology, based at the Institute for Health & Aging, University of California, San Francisco. She is the Director of “UCSF Bioethics,” a nascent program that spans ethics research, clinical ethics, and ethics education across the university’s four professional schools. Prof. Koenig pioneered the use of empirical methods in the study of ethical questions in science, medicine, and health. Prof. Koenig’s current focus is emerging genomic technologies, including biobanking policy and using deliberative democracy to engage communities about research governance. Her work has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1991. Currently, she: 1) directs the ELSI component of a NICHD award focused on newborn screening in an era of whole genome analysis, 2) is P.I. of UCSF’s Program in Prenatal and Pediatric Genomic Sequencing (P3EGS), part of the CSER2 national network, and, 3) is supported by NCI to conduct an “embedded ethics” study of the Athena “Wisdom” PCORI-funded clinical trial of genomic risk-stratified breast cancer prevention. Previously, she directed an NHGRI-funded “Center of Excellence” in ELSI Research. Prof. Koenig was the founding executive director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University; she created and led the Bioethics Research Program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. She received her Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco joint program in Medical Anthropology. She is an active participant in policy, having served on the ethics committee that advises the director of the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services “Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Genetic Testing.” She recently served on a state-wide “Health Data Governance Task Force” which advised UC’s president.

Click here for the video recording of the 2018 Bishop Lecture.

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: www.vizhealth.org

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

Faculty

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.

Last Name: 
Tait

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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