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Reshma Jagsi was recently elected to the Board of Directors for the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Congratulations!

Research Topics: 
Tue, January 03, 2017

Jeremy Sussman was quoted in a recent New York Times article, "You're 'prediabetic'? Join the club."

Research Topics: 

CBSSM is co-sponsoring the MICHR Research Education Symposium: Life at the Interface of Genomics and Clinical Care. This event will be held March 15th, 8-1 pm. Keynote speaker is Dr. Ellen Wright Clayton, JD, MD, Rosalind E. Franklin Professor of Genetics and Health Policy; Craig-Weaver Professor of Pediatrics; Professor of Law; and Director, Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Wright Clayton’s topic will be “Addressing Biomedical Ethics.”

Geoffrey Barnes, MD, MSc

Faculty

Geoff Barnes is a cardiologist and vascular medicine specialist at the University of Michigan Health System. He completed his undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis (2003) followed by medical school at the University of Michigan (2007).  He then completed a residency (2010), chief residency (2011) in internal medicine, cardiology fellowship (2014) and vascular medicine fellowship (2014) at the University of Michigan.  His areas of research interest include anticoagulation, venous thromboembolism, quality improvement and shared decision making.

Research Interests: 
Last Name: 
Barnes

The Diabetes Lobby (Dec-09)

Tell us what you think about certain public policies designed to reduce the incidence of diabetes in the US.

Please read this hypothetical news article and then answer a few questions at the end.

People with Diabetes Lobby Congress This Week

Washington, March 28 – About 1000 patients with type 2 diabetes (also commonly known as adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes) have converged here as advocates for the American Diabetes Association (ADA). They will be meeting with their members of Congress to discuss their condition and advocate for federal policies to address their disease. In addition, they will hold a rally on Thursday of this week on the National Monument grounds, to attract popular attention to their disease.
 
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 21 million Americans have diabetes, but one-third of these people do not yet know they have the disease. More than 90% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, a form of diabetes which typically emerges when people are adults but which may develop during childhood. The number of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes has been increasing every year. There were over 1 million new cases of diabetes diagnosed in 2005 among adults. Researchers believe that the conditions in the neighborhoods where people live increase their chances of getting type 2 diabetes. Rates of diabetes are highest among people living in poor neighborhoods.
 
People with type 2 diabetes develop a problem with the way their body secretes or responds to insulin, a hormone that regulates blood glucose levels. As a result, they have elevated blood sugar levels, which they must check multiple times per day and monitor their food intake. Researchers are working hard to understand more about what causes type 2 diabetes. Diabetes expert Dr. Howard Smith says, "People who live in neighborhoods where the majority of stores sell food with high calories and low nutritional value, such as fast food restaurants or convenience stores, are much more likely to develop diabetes." Several other scientific studies have supported the idea that people’s neighborhoods, including not having convenient or safe places to exercise, and being exposed to many advertisements selling high-calorie foods, are associated with the development of diabetes.
 
If left untreated, people with diabetes can become blind, have kidney damage, lose their limbs, or die. Physicians, health plans, employers, and policymakers are considering new ways to prevent diabetes, help patients manage their diabetes, and reduce this deadly epidemic. It is expected that the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, and Labor will consider several bills about diabetes in the upcoming session of Congress.
 
Some people with diabetes check their blood sugar with a device called a glucometer.
 
Having read this news article, please tell us if you agree with the following policies:
 
The government should impose higher taxes on food high in calories and fat, like it does for cigarettes.
 
  • strongly disagree
  • disagree
  • neutral
  • agree
  • strongly agree
The government should provide financial incentives to encourage grocery stores to locate in areas where there are few.
 
  • strongly disagree
  • disagree
  • neutral
  • agree
  • strongly agree
The government should regulate advertisements for junk food like it does for cigarettes and alcohol.
 
  • strongly disagree
  • disagree
  • neutral
  • agree
  • strongly agree

Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent, or what?

  • Strong Democrat
  • Not so strong Democrat
  • Independent, close to Democrat
  • Independent
  • Independent, close to Republican
  • Not so strong Republican
  • Strong Republican
  • Don't know, haven't thought much about it

How you answered: 

Researchers affiliated with CBDSM and the School of Public Health have found that "Americans' opinions about health policy are polarized on political partisan lines. Democrats and Republicans differ in the ways that they receive and react to messages about the social determinants of health."

In the study, lead author Sarah Gollust, PhD, randomly assigned participants to read one of four hypothetical news articles about type 2 diabetes. Diabetes was used as an example of a common health issue that is widely debated and that is known to have multiple contributing factors, including genetic predisposition, behavioral choices, and social determinants (such as income or neighborhood environments).

The articles were identical except for the causal frame embedded in the text. The article that you read in this Decision of the Month presented social determinants as a cause for type 2 diabetes. Other versions of the article presented genetic predisposition or behavioral choices as a cause for type 2 diabetes, and one version had no causal language.

Dr. Gollust then asked the study participants their views of seven nonmedical governmental policies related to the environmental, neighborhood, or economic determinants of diabetes:

  • bans on fast food concessions in public schools
  • incentives for grocery stores to establish locations where there are currently few
  • bans on trans fat in restaurants
  • government investment in parks
  • regulating junk food advertisements
  • imposing taxes on junk foods
  • subsidizing the costs of healthy food

Dr. Gollust also asked participants their political party identification and a number of other self-reported characteristics.

The most dramatic finding of this study was that the news story with the social determinants as a cause for type 2 diabetes had significantly different effects on the policy views of participants, depending on whether they identified themselves as Democrats or Republicans. After reading the social determinants article, Democrats expressed a higher level of support for the proposed public health policies. Republicans expressed a lower level of support for the proposed public health policies. This effect occurred only in the group of participants who were randomly assigned to read the version of the news article with social determinants given as a cause for type 2 diabetes. Dr. Gollust summarizes: "Exposure to the social determinants message produced a divergence of opinion by political party, with Democrats and Republicans differing in their opinions by nearly 0.5 units of the 5-point scale."

The study suggests several possible explanations for these results:

"First, the social determinants media frame may have presumed a liberal worldview to which the Republican study participants disagreed or found factually erroneous (ie, not credible), but with which Democrats felt more comfortable or found more familiar. . . Second, media consumption is becoming increasingly polarized by party identification, and . . . the social determinants message may have appeared particularly biased to Republicans. . .Third, the social determinants frame may have primed, or activated, study participants' underlying attitudes about the social group highlighted in the news article. . . Fourth, participants' party identification likely serves as proxy for . . . values held regarding personal versus social responsibility for health."

Dr. Gollust and her colleagues conclude that if public health advocates want to mobilize the American public to support certain health policies, a segmented communication approach may be needed. Some subgroups of Americans will not find a message about social determinants credible. These subgroups value personal responsibility and find social determinants antagonistic to their worldview. To avoid triggering immediate resistance by these citizens to information about social determinants of health, public health advocates may consider the use of information about individual behavioral factors in educational materials, while working to build public familiarity with and acceptance of research data on social determinants.

For more details about this study:

Gollust SE, Lantz PM, Ubel PA, The polarizing effect of news media messages about the social determinants of health, Am J Public Health 2009, 99:2160-2167.
 

 

Kathryn Moseley served as one of the judges at "The Big Ethical Question Slam 5" hosted by a2ethics.org. In addition, Naomi Laventhal, Michele Gornick, Christian Vercler, Lauren Smith, and Lauren Wancata served as judges at the "Michigan Highschool Ethics Bowl 2."

Thanks to all the CBSSM folks who contributed their time!

For more information about these events and other great ethics-related activites, go to a2ethics.org.

A short video about the Highschool Ethics Bowl can be found here.

On November 14th, Dr. Andrew Shuman presented, “The Growing Importance of Clinical Ethics Consultation in Hospitalized Patients” at the Washtenaw County Medical Society.  Dr. Shuman is the Chair of the Clinical Ethics Program at Michigan Medicine.  He is Assistant Professor in the Department of Otolaryngology and Head/Neck Surgery and on faculty in the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine.

Research Topics: 

Does order matter when distributing resources? (Jun-03)

Should people with more severe health problems receive state funding for treatment before people with less severe health problems? See how your opinion compares with the opinions of others.

Imagine that you are a government official responsible for deciding how state money is spent on different medical treatments. Your budget is limited so you cannot afford to offer treatment to everyone who might benefit. Right now, you must choose to spend money on one of two treatments.

  • Treatment A treats a life threatening illness. It saves patients' lives and returns them to perfect health after treatment
  • Treatment B treats a different life threatening illness. It saves patients' lives but is not entirely effective and leaves them with paraplegia after treatment. These patients are entirely normal before their illness but after treatment will have paraplegia.

Suppose the state has enough money to offer Treatment A to 100 patients. How many patients would have to offered Treatment B so that you would have difficulty choosing which treatment to offer?

How do your answers compare?

The average person said that it would become difficult to decide which treatment to offer when 1000 people were offered Treatment B.

What if you had made another comparison before the one you just made?

In the study, some people were asked to make a comparison between saving the lives of otherwise-healthy people and saving the lives of people who already had paraplegia. After they made that comparison, they made the comparison you just completed. The average person in that group said it would take 126 people offered Treatment B to make the decision difficult. The differences are shown in the graph below

Why is this important?

The comparison you made is an example of a person tradeoff (PTO). The PTO is one method used to find out the utilities of different health conditions. These utilities are basically measures of the severities of the conditions. More severe conditions have a lower utility, and less severe conditions have a higher utility, on a scale of 0 to 1. Insurance companies, the government, and other organizations use these utilities as a way to decide which group to funnel money into for treatments.

On the surface, it seems like basing the money division on the severity of a condition is a good and fair method, since theoretically the people who are in the greatest need will be treated first. However, the PTO raises issues of fairness and equity that aren't accounted for in other utility elicitation methods like the time tradeoff (TTO) and rating scale (RS).

For example, when asked to decide how many people with paraplegia would have to be saved to equal saving 100 healthy people, many people say 100; that is, they think it is equally important to save the life of someone with paraplegia and a healthy person. Going by values obtained using the TTO or RS, an insurance company may conclude that 160 people with paraplegia (using a utility of .6) would have to be saved to make it equal to saving 100 healthy people. This would mean that less benefit would be gotten by saving someone with paraplegia, and thus they might not cover expenses for lifesaving treatments for people with paraplegia as much as they would for a healthy person. The PTO shows that many people would not agree with doing this, even though their own responses to other utility questions generated the policy in the first place.

For more information see:

Ubel PA, Richardson J, Baron J. Exploring the role of order effects in person trade-off elicitations. Health Policy, 61(2):189-199, 2002.

Is Bill Gates' time worth more than yours? (Jul-03)

Informal caregiving for relatives (parents, grandparents, spouses) can be time consuming. Can we attach dollar value to that time? Is everyone's time worth the same amount?

Imagine that your mother is suffering from moderate dementia and needs assistance with daily activities such as bathing and dressing. You are the only person available to care for her, as you are an only child and your father has passed away. On average, your mother will need about 2 to 3 hours of help per day, or 17 hours per week total.

Assuming that you provide 17 hours of care per week, that means you will provide about 900 hours of care each year. How much money would you say the time you devote to caregiving is worth each year?
 
Now imagine that Bill Gates, the world's richest person, is in the same situation as you. He has to provide 17 hours of care per week to his mother. How do you think the value of the time he spends giving care compares to the value of the time you spend giving care?
 
  • His is worth more
  • His is worth the same amount
  • His is worth less

How do your answers compare?

According to a study done to determine the costs of informal caregiving, the average value of the time spent giving care to someone with moderate dementia was about $7400. This was calculated using an average time of about 900 hours per year, at the mean wage for a home health aide in 1998 of $8.20 per hour.

What if the person you're caring for has less or more severe dementia?

As you might imagine, the cost of informal care differs depending on the severity of dementia. People with mild dementia don't need as much care (8.5 hours per week), and those with severe dementia need much more (41.5 hours per week). The amount of care needed directly impacts the estimated cost of care:

Dementia severity Hours of care per week Estimated cost of informal care
Mild 8.5 $3630
Moderate 17.4 $7420
Severe 41.5 $17,700
Why is this important?

As the Baby Boomer generation ages, the number of people needing informal care is going to increase dramatically. In order to make informed policy decisions regarding care for older people, the government will need an estimate of the value of informal care. A major obstacle to this is that there is no set way for making the estimates.

Earlier, you said that Bill Gate's caregiving time would be worth the same amount as yours. That implies that basing national estimates of caregiving costs on average wages would be the proper way to go about the calculations, since it means everyone's time is equally valuable.

However, some people think that not everyone's time is of equal value. In that case, using average wages to estimate the total cost of caregiving may not lead to an accurate representation. If one group of people is more likely to provide care than another group, then the average value of all caregivers' time may not be the same as the average of all peoples' time. This would possibly lead to an over- or underestimation of caregiving costs, depending on the value of the time of common groups of caregivers. Even without an agreed-upon estimation method, some valuable data can be generated.

The estimation method used in this study likely led to conservative figures, so the true costs of informal caregiving are probably higher than reported here. Even using this conservative method, the costs to society are staggering. The researchers estimated that the cost of informal caregiving for dementia alone in 1998 was $18.6 billion, which is almost two-thirds as much money as that actually spent on paid home care services for all conditions, not just dementia! That figure will grow considerably in the not-so-distant future when the Baby Boomers begin to need caregiving, whether formal or informal, and will likely have a large impact not just on health care systems, but on society as a whole as more and more people are called on to provide informal care.

For more information see:

Langa KM, et al. National estimates of the quantity and cost of informal caregiving for the elderly with dementia. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 16:770-778, 2001.

What is the price of life? (Aug-03)

Do you think that your life is worth more than the amount that the government usually uses as the maximum to spend to provide one year of life?

Imagine that you are a member of a government panel that is trying to decide how cost-effective a medical treatment must be in order for the government to cover the costs of the treatment. Suppose that a certain treatment could provide one additional year of life to an otherwise healthy person. What is the highest amount the government should be willing to pay per person for this treatment?

How do your answers compare?

For the past twenty years, the figure most often used as the maximum amount to spend to provide one year of life has been $50,000. This figure was originally proposed since it was the cost of a year of kidney dialysis, a lifesaving treatment that the U.S. government funds in Medicare.

Should the number be higher or lower than the current standard?

Conventional wisdom would suggest that the number be higher to take into account the inflation that has occurred in the years since the standard was developed. Current practices such as annual Pap smear screening for women with low risk for cervical cancer, which has a cost of $700,000 per year of life gained, also suggest that society is willing to pay more than the current standard for a year of life. The authors of the cited article recommend, based on current treatment practices and surveys of the general public, that the cost-effectiveness threshold should be revised to be around $200,000.

Should the number increase, decrease, or stay the same over time?

Again, it seems that the threshold amount should increase over time due to inflation. However, other factors come in to play that affect the value.

Since new technologies are emerging all the time, some of which will be deemed cost-effective, there will be more and more treatments to be offered in the future. Also, the rate of use of treatments is an important consideration, because even if a new treatment is more cost-effective than an old one, if it is used more often it will end up costing more to society overall. With more treatments becoming available and more people being given treatments, the threshold cost will probably have to decrease so that insurance companies and the government can keep up with the increasing availability and demand.

Why is this important?

Insurance companies and government health care entities face a continuing struggle when trying to determine which medical treatments to cover. Health care costs are increasing rapidly, so these groups will be facing even tougher decisions in the future. Establishing cost-effectiveness guidelines would be extremely helpful as an aid to making the decisions about treatment coverage. Evidence shows that the current threshold is probably not an accurate reflection of the desires of society or actual prescribing practices. It needs to be adjusted to become useful once again, and must be reevaluated periodically to make sure the value keeps up with trends in the health care market, rather than being left alone without question for two decades as is the current situation.

For more information see:

Ubel PA, Hirth RA, Chernew ME, Fendrick AM. What is the price of life and why doesn't it increase at the rate of inflation? Archives of Internal Medicine. 163:1637-1641, 2003.

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