Dr. Naomi T. Laventhal joined the University of Michigan in August 2009, after completing her residency in pediatrics, fellowships in neonatology and clinical medical ethics, and a master’s degree in public policy at the University of Chicago. She is a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases in the Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, and in the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine (CBSSM).
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Andrew G. Shuman, MD is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Michigan Medical School. He is also the Chief of the ENT Section of the Surgery Service at the VA Ann Arbor Health System. He is a service chief of the Clinical Ethics Service in the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine (CBSSM). His current research interests explore ethical issues involved in caring for patients with head and neck cancer, and in managing clinical ethics consultations among patients with cancer.
Darin B. Zahuranec, M.D, M.S., (Residency 2005, School of Public Health 2009), is an associate professor of neurology in the University of Michigan Medical School. Dr. Zahuranec received his bachelor's degree, summa cum laude, from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1997, and earned his medical degree from Case Western Reserve in 2001. He completed an internship at University Hospitals of Cleveland; residency in the Department of Neurology at the U-M, where he served as chief resident in 2004-05; and a fellowship in vascular neurology here.
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.
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
- strongly disagree
- strongly agree
- strongly disagree
- strongly agree
- strongly disagree
- 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, 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:
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.
What is the impact of medical advertising that is directly targeted at patients? What information do consumers of medical products and therapies need in order to make informed decisions about their health?
Consider the following:
Ms. J, a healthy 50-year old woman, drives by a billboard that advertises low-dose spiral computed tomography (CT) scanning to screen for lung cancer. Although she has no family history of cancer and has never smoked, several of Ms. J’s friends have been diagnosed with cancer recently. She worries that she herself may have an undetected malignancy.
Responding to this advertising, Ms. J decides to pay out-of-pocket for a CT scan at the imaging center advertised on the billboard. The radiologist at this imaging center profits from the number of scans interpreted. As a result of the CT scan, an abnormality is found, and Ms. J undergoes a biopsy of her lung. A complication occurs from this procedure, but Ms. J recovers, and the biopsy comes back negative. She is relieved to learn that she does not have lung cancer.
After reading this scenario and thinking about direct-to consumer medical advertising, which of the following statements best represents your views?
- STATEMENT A: Direct-to-consumer advertising improves patient education and patient-physician communication. Such advertising informs and empowers patients, so that their health care better reflects their needs and values. In particular, certain health services require complex medical equipment with high capital costs. Physicians who invest in such equipment do so because they believe in its promise, and they deserve payment to recoup their investment.
- STATEMENT B: Direct-to-consumer advertising often results in misunderstanding, increased costs, and disruption of the patient-physician relationship. Such advertising can skew information to portray products in a positive light and can prey upon patients’ fears. Physicians closely allied with a treatment cannot offer objective assessment to patients about the efficacy or risks of the treatment. Further, most patients are ignorant of the financial incentives to physicians for various procedures.
- STATEMENT C: I have not formed a viewpoint on direct-to-consumer medical advertising.
How do your answers compare?
CBDSM's Reshma Jagsi, MD, DPhil, has written a powerful challenge to the medical profession and medical industries in a recent issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Dr. Jagsi argues that the increasing proliferation of direct-to-patient advertising has raised questions of how physicians can function as unbiased intermediaries between patients and industry.
In the article, she presents six case studies, one of which has been excerpted and adapted for this Decision of the Month. Dr. Jagsi uses these case studies to address serious issues related to both advertising and conflict of interest. Some examples:
- What implications does the frequently used advertising directive "Ask your doctor about X" have for the doctor-patient relationship?
- How ethical is it to disguise medical advertising—for instance, to hire celebrities to discuss treatments during interviews?
- Should a physician who prescribes a particular medical device be allowed to receive payment from the speakers' bureau of a company that produces that medical device?
- Should a physician who holds an ownership interest in an expensive treatment machine be required to explain alternate treatments to patients?
- When does a website about a medical treatment cross over from being informational to being promotional?
Dr. Jagsi argues that physicians have a strong ethical responsibility to their patients to call attention to potential conflicts of interest and to help interpret medical information in the best interests of their patients.
For more details about this study: