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Salomeh Michelle Salari, MS

Fellow

Sally is a fourth year medical student at the University of Michigan with the intent of specializing in Obstetrics and Gynecology. She is a member of the "Pathway of Excellence" ethics co-curricular program and is the CBSSM's second pre-doctoral clinical ethics fellow. Her interests include preventative ethics and moral distress, for which she is piloting "Moral Distress (MoD) Rounds" on non-intensive patient units at Mott Hospital.

Last Name: 
Salari

Matthew A. Corriere MD, MS

Faculty

Dr. Corriere’s research seeks to develop novel treatment approaches that incorporate patient-centered, cultural, and societal perspectives.  His current work is focused on helping doctors understand what matters most to patients so that this information can be used to make shared treatment decisions based on their goals and values.  Dr. Corriere also conducts research evaluating clinical treatment outcomes and imaging for arterial and venous disease.  Dr.

Last Name: 
Corriere

Supporting information for: 2014 CBSSM Research Colloquium and Bishop Lecture (Myra Christopher)

 

Andrew G. Shuman, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Otolaryngology, University of Michigan

"When Not to Operate: The Dilemma of Surgical Unresectability"

One of the most anguishing choices a surgeon can make is deciding not to embark upon an operation because a tumor is deemed unresectable.  Despite the widespread acceptance of patient autonomy and transparency in medical practice, there remains an unstated paternalism “behind the mask,” within the confines of the operating room.  The concept of surgical unresectability derives from a complex combination of tumor factors, patient factors, and surgeon factors.  In many cases, these decisions are intensely personal and subjective, with disagreements even among surgeons in the same field.  There is a risk that the voice of the patient may be lost in making these decisions, as surgeons weigh these intangible variables in ways that may be incommunicable.  However, the consequences of proceeding with an operation unlikely to achieve its intended outcome may be similarly terrifying.  In this presentation, a cancer surgeon and reconstructive surgeon will discuss these dilemmas from multiple perspectives using real-life case examples from their practice.  We will collectively try to tease out the inherent biases informing such decisions from the standpoint of doctors, patients, and clinical ethicists.  The theoretical underpinnings of the authority of surgical judgment will be explored, noting that pursuing goods internal to the practice of surgery requires such decisions, and asking whether Polanyi’s concept of tacit knowledge explains (or even permits) a degree of paternalism.  

Phoebe Danziger, BA, MD expected May 2014
 
"Beliefs, Biases, and Ethical Dilemmas in the Perinatal Counseling and Treatment of Severe Kidney Anomalies"
 

Anomalies of the kidney and urinary tract are the most common prenatally diagnosed fetal structural abnormalities, and are a major cause of end-stage kidney disease in children. Severe, prenatally diagnosed cases present a number of unique ethical issues with respect to the care of the pregnant woman, fetus, and neonate. We will use a case-based approach to explore these issues in the context of prenatal counseling, and in the neonatal period. On a case-by-case basis, efforts are made antenatally to coordinate counseling from appropriate consultants such as maternal-fetal medicine, neonatology, and pediatric urology and nephrology. We argue, however, that significant differences exist both between individual physicians and between subspecialties more broadly with regard to beliefs about prognosis, therapeutic interventions available, and appropriate utilization of palliative versus life-prolonging options. Unlike for other high-risk perinatal conditions such as extreme prematurity, no guidelines or standardized interprofessional processes exist for the provision of coordinated, timely, and non-directive care to these patients. This has implications for choices made regarding prenatal care, resuscitation efforts at birth, and utilization of palliative and life-prolonging care options, and we argue that the implicit biases and differences in both counseling and practice must be explicitly addressed and considered in order to facilitate more effective counseling for families facing these diagnoses. We will discuss the prenatal use of the term “lethal pulmonary hypoplasia,” a term that implies an unequivocal outcome but is a tissue-based diagnosis that can only be made after birth, not on the basis of obstetric ultrasound. We will also discuss the strikingly different rates of utilization of and attitudes towards dialysis initiated in the neonatal period, both between individual care providers and between institutions. 

 
Kathryn L. Moseley, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor, Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, University of Michigan
 
"Electronic Medical Records: Challenges for Clinical Ethics Consultation"
 
Electronic medical records (EMRs) are rapidly replacing their paper counterparts. Their advantages include readability, access, organization, and comprehensiveness. The qualities that make EMRs so attractive also create new challenges for the clinical ethics consultant and the consultation process. This transition from a handwritten record of examinations and diagnoses that resided in close proximity to the patient to an electronic record that can be read remotely creates a number of concerns uniquely problematic for ethics consultation.  
We identify 4 hazards that EMRs present to ethics consultants:
Accessing significant medical information remotely, before face-to-face contact, can bias the consultant and lead to the premature development of conclusions/recommendations.
The ability to access medical information remotely can tempt the consultant to be less thorough in face-to-face information-gathering.
The paucity of nuanced information about the patient/family social and emotional situation and the content of patient/family meetings can misinform and mislead the consultant.
Remotely accessing information can delay communication with the patient and family, potentially undermining their trust in the objectivity of the ethics consultation process.
We propose the following 3 recommendations for training programs and ethics committee members to begin to address the concerns above:
1) Training programs for ethics consultants should emphasize the importance of face-to-face encounters with all stakeholders as soon as possible after receiving a consult.  Telephone only consults should be discouraged.
2) Hospital ethics committees should create procedures and processes that encourage and support face-to-face information gathering.
3) New consultants should be educated about the limitations of the EMR, especially as an accurate source of information about the emotional or social situation of the patient/family and the content of patient/family meetings.
 
 
Helen Morgan, MD,  Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Michigan
 
"Academic Integrity in the Pre-Health Undergraduate Experience"
 
Introduction: There is evidence that academic misconduct early in a student’s career can initiate a continuum of later unethical behaviors.  Multiple studies have reported that the best predictor of whether a student will cheat in medical school is whether they had a history of cheating in college.   Cheating in medical school has been found to be the strongest predictor of disciplinary action by state medical boards for practicing physicians. There is a paucity of data on perceptions of academic integrity in pre-health students. Methods: In the fall of 2013, we administered a survey on academic integrity to first-year pre-health students in the Health Science Scholars Program.  The curriculum for their course included sessions on academic integrity in the health care profession, and in the pre-health experience.  Follow-up assessments in the spring of 2014 included a re-administration of the same integrity survey, as well as a survey on students’ perceptions of what pressures and justifications lead to cheating behaviors. Results:  In the fall, students reported that 7.5% had cheated already in college, 26.2% had witnessed cheating in college, and 59.4% believed that academic misconduct was a problem at the University of Michigan.  In the spring, the percent of students who reported cheating in college was unchanged at 7.1%, and there was an increase in the number of students who reported witnessing cheating in college at 40.8% (p=0.027).    Students cited admissions requirements for graduate programs as the highest sources of pressure to cheat. Conclusion: This pilot data demonstrates that there is a need for curriculum development that could potentially prevent academic misconduct in vulnerable pre-health students.
 
 
Tanner Caverly, MD, MPH, Health Services Research Fellow, Ann Arbor VA Medical Center and Clinical Lecturer, University of Michigan
 
"How transparent are cancer screening & prevention guidelines about the benefits and harms of what they recommend?"
 
Transparent risk information -- that is, presenting absolute risks on both benefits and harms -- is essential for medical decision making. Without this information clinicians and policy-makers cannot know how much an intervention helps, whether the potential benefit is worth the potential harms, or whether one service is more helpful than another service. We recently did a structured review of clinical practice guidelines and two widely-used clinical resources. We found that few recommendations are accompanied by transparent risk information on the benefits and harms of the recommended cancer prevention service (only 23%). This talk focuses on how risk information WAS presented and the implications of our findings.
 
 
Susan D. Goold, MD, MHSA, MA , Professor of Internal Medicine and Health Management and Policy, School of Public Health, University of Michigan
 
"Controlling Health Costs:  Physician Responses to Patient Expectations for Medical Care"
 
Background: Physicians have dual responsibilities to make medical decisions that serve their patients’ best interests but also utilize health care resources wisely.  Their ability to practice cost-consciously is particularly challenged when faced with patient expectations or requests for medical services that may be unnecessary. Objective:  To understand how physicians consider health care resources and the strategies they use to exercise cost-consciousness to respond to patient expectations and requests for medical care. Design:  Exploratory focus groups of practicing physicians were conducted.  Participants were encouraged to discuss their perceptions of resource constraints, experiences with redundant, unnecessary and marginally beneficial services, and asked about patient requests or expectations for particular services. Participants:  Sixty-two physicians representing a variety of specialties and practice types participated in 9 focus groups in Michigan, Ohio, and Minnesota in 2012. Measurements:  Iterative thematic content analysis of focus group transcripts. Principal Findings:  Physicians reported making tradeoffs between a variety of financial and nonfinancial resources, considering not only the relative cost of medical decisions and alternative services, but the time and convenience of patients, their own time constraints, as well as the logistics of maintaining a successful practice.  They described strategies and techniques to educate patients, build trust, or substitute less costly alternatives when appropriate, often adapting their management to the individual patient and clinical environment. Conclusions:  Physicians often make nuanced trade-offs in clinical practice aimed at efficient resource use within a complex flow of clinical work and patient expectations.  Understanding the challenges faced by physicians and the strategies they use to exercise cost-consciousness provides insight into policy measures that will address physician’s roles in health care resource use.
 
 
 
 

2016 Bishop Lecture featuring William Dale, MD, PhD

Wed, April 27, 2016, 10:30am
Location: 
Founders Room, Alumni Center, 200 Fletcher St., Ann Arbor, MI

The 2016 Bishop Lecture in Bioethics was presented by William Dale, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine; Chief, Section of Geriatrics & Palliative Medicine; and Director, Specialized Oncology Care & Research in the Elderly (SOCARE) Clinic at the University of Chicago. Dr. Dale presented, "Why Do We So Often Overtreat, Undertreat, and Mistreat Older Adults with Cancer?" The Bishop Lecture served as the keynote address during the CBSSM Research Colloquium.

Abstract: The US health care system is being confronted with the consequences of aging as the baby-boomers join Social Security and Medicare, with cancer care front-and-center.  Two recent IOM reports, Retooling for an Aging America and Delivering High-Quality Cancer Care: Charting a New Course for a System in Crisis, highlight these intersecting areas.  Delivering high quality care for older adults with cancer, at an affordable cost, in a transforming health delivery system will be addressed from a personal, clinical, and policy perspective.

William Dale, MD, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Medicine and the Section Chief of Geriatrics & Palliative Medicine at the University of Chicago, with a secondary appointment in Hematology/Oncology.  He is a board-certified internist and geriatrician with a doctorate in health policy. He completed his medical and graduate school training at the University of Chicago, did his residency in internal medicine and fellowship in geriatrics at the University of Pittsburgh, and then returned to the University of Chicago.

Dr. Dale has devoted his career to the care of older adults with cancer.  In 2006, He established, and now co-directs, the Specialized Oncology Care & Research in the Elderly (SOCARE) Clinic at the University of Chicago. SOCARE offers interdisciplinary, individualized, and integrated treatment for older cancer patients. It provides a special environment for addressing the issues relevant to older cancer patients and their loved ones and integrating research into this special clinic environment.

Dr. Dale is an international speaker who has published over 50 papers in top journals on medical decision making, behavioral economics, quality of life, and frailty assessment in older adults, particularly those with cancer. He and his team have shown the important role emotions like anxiety play in medical decisions for older adults. He has received grants from the National Institute on Aging (NIA), National Cancer Institute (NCI), American Cancer Society, and the Foundation of Informed Medical Decision Making. With NIH funding, he has co-led a series of national conferences with international experts on geriatric-oncology.  He is a co-investigator for the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP), a survey and biomeasure collection on the health, well-being, and social life of over 3,000 older adults.

  • Click here for the video recording of the 2016 Bishop Lecture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the study

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

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

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

 

Clinical Ethics Service

Clinical Ethics Service

Background

The Clinical Ethics Service within 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 service 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.

Organization

The Clinical Ethics Service is led 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 clinical ethicist manages the program on a daily basis. A cadre of seven faculty ethicists rotate on service throughout the year and work closely with the clinical ethicist. Trainees and students rotate as well. Dedicated administrative support will be organized through CBSSM. For an overview of the program, please click here to view an informative slide presentation.

Clinical Ethics Consultation Service

The Clinical Ethics Service offers adult and pediatric ethics consultation services across Michigan Medicine, and are available 24/7/365. More information about the adult and pediatric ethics committees and consultation services can be found on the Adult Ethics Committee and Pediatrics Ethics Committee web pages.

Preventative Ethics

The concept of preventative ethics is critical in anticipating, navigating and mitigating potential conflicts and tensions before they become true ethical dilemmas or crises, and necessitate formal consults. This model facilitates awareness and proactive decision-making on the part of patients, families, trainees and staff, and creates a more visible presence for ethics in the health system. The Clinical Ethics Service offers regular preventative ethics rounds in a variety of care settings across Michigan Medicine.

Educational Program

Medical ethics is an integral component of contemporary education for all clinicians. There is a vibrant program for longitudinal ethics education within the medical school, and a more intensive curriculum as part of its path of excellence program. The Clinical Ethics Service provides a robust program for longitudinal education and awareness of clinical ethics for Michigan Medicine staff and trainees.

People

Service Chiefs:
Clinical Ethicist:
Faculty Ethicists:

Contacts

Service Chiefs of the Clinical Ethics Service: Christian J. Vercler, MD, MA & Andrew G. Shuman, MD
Administrative contact: Amy Lynn – lynnam@med.umich.edu  734-615-8377

Funded by National Institutes of Health.

Funding Years: 2013-2016

With the growing importance of biobank research, concerns have been raised about how to protect the interests of donors. The current ethics framework mainly focuses on protecting against risks to donors' welfare and to their privacy. However, there has been little systematic empirical, normative, or policy focus on the non-welfare interests of donors, i.e., concerns about the moral, societal, or religious implications of research using their donation that may affect their willingness to donate. Although important theoretical discussions, mentions in commission reports, and insights from several qualitative studies have drawn attention to the serious nature of these interests, we lack important data for policy development: (1) systematic data on the nature and extent of potential impact of non-welfare interests and (2) high quality (i.e., informed and considered) policy preferences of the public addressing how to balance these non-welfare interests with the promise of biobank research. Our project will fill these gaps with two complementary projects. First, a national survey will assess the contours of the potential impact of non-welfare interests on biobank research, by addressing: what kinds of non-welfare interests substantially affect willingness to donate biological materials?; how common are these interests?; how much do donors want to know about the potential involvement of such non-welfare interests when donating?; how are non-welfare interests affected by such factors as race or ethnicity, socioeconomic status, trust in medical research, religious beliefs and practice, or political orientation? Second, we will obtain considered, informed judgments of the public regarding how to handle the tension between the public good of biobanks and the conflicting non-welfare interests of potential donors, using a democratic deliberation method in which subjects will attend an all-day education and peer deliberation session. The impact of the deliberation will be validated using a randomized, experimental design. In summary, despite the ethical significance of non-welfare interests for biobank research, there is a paucity of systematic data regarding both their potential impact and the potential policy solutions. This project will provide a highly generalizable assessment of the potential impact of non-welfare interests as well as policy recommendations based on informed, deliberative opinions of the general public. Visit the NIH website for more information.

PI(s): Tom Tomlinson, Raymond De Vries 

Co-I(s): Karen Kelly-Blake, H. Myra Kim, Blake J Roessler 

Reshma Jagsi, MD, DPhil

Director

Reshma Jagsi, MD, DPhil, is Professor, Deputy Chair, and Residency Program Director in the Department of Radiation Oncology and Director of the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine at the University of Michigan.

She graduated first in her class from Harvard College and then pursued her medical training at Harvard Medical School. She also served as a fellow in the Center for Ethics at Harvard University and completed her doctorate in Social Policy at Oxford University as a Marshall Scholar.

Last Name: 
Jagsi
Press Coverage: 

Conference on Bioethics: First Do No Harm: Avoiding Overdiagnosis and Overtreatment in Medicine

Sat, November 11, 2017, 8:45am
Location: 
Sheraton Ann Arbor Hotel | 3200 Boardwalk Street | Ann Arbor, MI

Registration available here.
 
8:45 am
Welcome, Opening Remarks, and Presentation of Certification of Appreciation Award to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation
Lauren B. Smith, MD, Chair, MSMS Committee on Bioethics; Department of Pathology, University of Michigan
Audrey J. Harvey, CEO, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation; and,
Shauna Ryder-Diggs, MD, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation
 
9:00 - 10:00 am
7 Assumptions that Drive Too Much Medical Care
H. Gilbert Welch, MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine, Community & Family Medicine, The Dartmouth Institute, The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Adjunct Professor, Business Administration, Tuck School
of Business and Adjunct Professor, Public Policy, Dartmouth College
 
10:00 - 11:00 am
Responding to those who Hope for a Miracle
Devan Stahl, PhD, Assistant Professor, Center for Ethics & Humanities in the Life Sciences, Department of Pediatrics & Human Development, Michigan State University
 
11:15 am - 12:15 pm
Whose Decision is it Anyway? Code Status and the Unilateral DNAR
Adam Marks, MD, Associate Director of the Adult Palliative and Supportive Care Clinic, East Ann Arbor Health and Geriatrics Center, Adult Palliative Care Medical Director, Arbor Hospice
 
1:15 - 2:15 pm
Capacity for Preferences: An Overlooked Factor in Ethical Dilemmas with Incapacitated Patients
Jason A. Wasserman, PhD, Associate Professor, Biomedical Science, Faculty Advisor on Professionalism, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine; and,
Mark C. Navin, PhD, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine
 
2:15 - 3:15 pm
Over-treatment/Over-diagnosis of Genetic Testing
Michele Gornick, PhD, MA, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School
 
3:30 - 4:30 pm
Case Studies
 
4:30 pm
Closing Remarks
Lauren B. Smith, MD, University of Michigan

The Importance of First Impressions (Jun-05)

How do your risk estimate and your actual level of risk impact your anxiety? Please answer the following question to the best of your ability:

What is the chance that the average woman will develop breast cancer in her lifetime?

The average lifetime chance of developing breast cancer is actually 13%.

How does this risk of breast cancer (13% or 13 out of 100 women) strike you?
 
As an extremely low risk 1       2       3       4       5        6        7        8       9       10 As an extremely high risk
 

How do your answers compare?

Making a risk estimate can change the feel of the actual risk

CBDSM investigators Angela Fagerlin, Brian Zikmund-Fisher, and Peter Ubel designed a study to test whether people react differently to risk information after they have been asked to estimate the risks. In this study, half the sample first estimated the average woman's risk of breast cancer (just as you did previously), while the other half made no such estimate. All subjects were then shown the actual risk information and indicated how the risk made them feel and gave their impression of the size of the risk. The graph below shows what they found:

 

As shown in the graph above, subjects who first made an estimated risk reported significantly more relief than those in the no estimate group. In contrast, subjects in the no estimate group showed significantly greater anxiety. Also, women in the estimate group tended to view the risk as low, whereas those in the no estimate group tended to view the risk as high.

So what's responsible for these findings? On average, those in the estimate group guessed that 46% of women will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives, which is a fairly large overestimate of the actual risk. It appears, then, that this overestimate makes the 13% figure feel relatively low, leading to a sense of relief when subjects find the risk isn't as bad as they had previously thought.

Why this finding is important

Clinical practice implications - The current research suggests that clinicians need to be very deliberate but very cautious in how they communicate risk information to their patients. These results argue that a physician should consider whether a person is likely to over-estimate their risk and whether they have an unreasonably high fear of cancer before having them make a risk estimation. For the average patient who would overestimate their risk, making a risk estimation may be harmful, leading them to be too relieved by the actual risk figure to take appropriate actions. On the other hand, if a patient has an unreasonably high fear of cancer, having them make such an estimate may actually be instrumental in decreasing their anxiety. Physicians may want to subtly inquire whether their patient is worried about her cancer risk or if she has any family history of cancer to address the latter type of patient.

Research implications - Many studies in cancer risk communication literature have asked participants at baseline about their perceived risk of developing specific cancers. Researchers then implement an intervention to "correct" baseline risk estimates. The current results suggest that measuring risk perceptions pre-intervention will influence people's subsequent reactions, making it difficult to discern whether it was the intervention that changed their attitudes or the pre-intervention risk estimate. Researchers testing out such interventions need to proceed with caution, and may need to add research arms of people who do not receive such pre-tests.

For more details: Fagerlin A, Zikmund-Fisher BJ, Ubel PA. How making a risk estimate can change the feel of that risk: shifting attitudes toward breast cancer risk in a general public survey. Patient Educ Couns. 2005 Jun;57(3):294-9.

 

 

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