Topic: Patient Care
April 11, 2016 | Posted By Bruce White, DO, JD

In the March 18, 2016, AMA Wire Practice Perspective entitled “When Patient Satisfaction Is Bad Medicine” , Drs. Joan Papp (Case Western Reserve University) and Jason Jerry (Cleveland Clinic) make the argument that the institutional drive for higher patient satisfaction scores on Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) questionnaires may be contributing to the opioid prescription drug crisis nationwide. They note the results of an Ohio State Medical Association-Cleveland Clinic Foundation survey 1,100 Ohio physicians:

… 98 percent of the physicians who participated reported that they felt increased pressure to treat pain, and 74 percent reported that they felt an increased pressure to prescribe opioids because of the perverse pain management incentives in the patient satisfaction surveys.

Additionally, 67 percent of respondents “agreed that, in general, physicians in the United States over-prescribe controlled substances to treat pain.” Drs. Papp and Jerry pointed to HCAHPS questions 2 and 3 specifically that may be a factor:

(1) “During this hospital stay, did you need medicine for pain?” Patients can answer “yes” or “no.” (2) “During this hospital stay, how often was your pain well controlled?” Patients can answer “never,” “sometimes,” “usually” or “always.” (3) “During this hospital stay, how often did hospital staff do everything they could to help you with your pain?” Patients can answer “never,” “sometimes,” “usually” or “always.”

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

February 12, 2016 | Posted By Claire Horner, JD, MA

When patients lack capacity, physicians look to family and friends to step in and provide consent for treatment on behalf of the patient. These surrogates, whether they were appointed by the patient as their health care agent or become health care surrogates by default under state law based on their relationship to the patient, have the right to receive information related to the care and treatment of the patient and have the corresponding responsibility to make health care decisions for the patient based on either the patient’s previously expressed wishes or her best interests.  What they don’t have, however, is the right to control and direct every minute aspect of the patient’s care in the hospital.  It would take several blog posts to discuss the conflicts that occur between surrogates and health care providers because of this (such as DNR orders, barriers to discharge, and demands for certain medications, to name a few), but perhaps the most concerning example of surrogate over-reach is the issue of inadequate pain management.

The use of pain medication can be difficult for both patients and providers, especially with the rate of opioid abuse in this country. Patients and their families are often afraid of the possibility of addiction, while physicians are reticent to prescribe narcotics for fear of misuse.  Whether or not a patient is a “drug-seeker” is a common question that arises when physicians are deciding what to prescribe. However, in the context of terminal illnesses – particularly at the very end of the illness – the shift in focus from curative to palliative care highlights the need for sufficient pain control in the face of nearly intractable pain.  It is in this context that denial of pain medication, or poor pain management, is most clearly an ethical issue.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

October 16, 2015 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD

I have a riddle for you.  Start with six attorneys; add three management consultants, three financial executives/advisors and a couple of bankers. Sprinkle in, one each, clothing store chain CEO and entertainment retail chain CEO. Add executives from a supermarket chain, a construction company, and a paper products company. Fold in a hedge fund manager, real estate executive, and an accountant. Finish with a reputation management expert and exactly one educator and one physician. What have you got? Perhaps you have the membership of an exclusive club, perhaps a class reunion of an exclusive prep school. No not these.  I will not make you guess any more. What you have is the Board of Directors of a large academic medical center which includes a major teaching hospital and a medical school. This academic medical center educates medical students and physicians, graduate students in science and other health professions. This teaching hospital is a major health care provider in the state capital of a large northeastern state. The academic medical center is the leading biomedical research organization in the region.

The Board of Directors is fully responsible for the governance of this large and complex organization. This organization has a mission to educate, to conduct biomedical research, and to provide patient care services. I was expecting to see that this list of directors would include expertise from renowned educators with national reputations. I was expecting to see a list containing outstanding biomedical researchers who discovered knowledge which made the world a better place. I was expecting leaders from the field of healthcare and medicine. But that is not what I found. I was surprised.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

October 6, 2015 | Posted By Claire Horner, JD, MA

A Catholic hospital came under fire recently for stating that it would not permit doctors to perform a tubal ligation during a c-section scheduled for October.  According to news reports (including anarticle written by the patient herself), the pregnant patient has a brain tumor, and her doctor have advised her that another pregnancy could be life-threatening.  Her doctor has recommended that she have a tubal ligation at the time of her c-section.  While my knowledge about this hospital, this case, and the participants is limited to what has been reported in the media, it raises an interesting question: in our pluralistic society, where conscientious objection is respected while maintaining a patient’s right to a certain standard of care, is it ethical to allow a religiously-affiliated health care institution to refuse to provide certain treatments it finds morally objectionable?

As background, the Catholic Church has historically been outspoken on bioethical issues and has a strong and robust bioethical teaching.  Catholic hospitals are governed by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services (ERDs), a document promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that clearly articulates the bioethical policies that must be followed in a health care institution based on the Church’s moral teachings.  It explains the Church’s teaching against direct sterilization as a method of birth control based on the principle of double effect.  “Direct sterilization of either men or women, whether permanent or temporary, is not permitted in a Catholic health care institution.  Procedures that induce sterility are permitted when their direct effect is the cure or alleviation of a present and serious pathology and a simpler treatment is not available.” (Directive 53).  In other words, if the sterilization procedure directly treats a pathology, it is licit; if it is used as a form of birth control to prevent a pregnancy, even if that pregnancy would be life-threatening, it is not licit.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

September 4, 2015 | Posted By Claire Horner, JD, MA

I initially set out to write a post about lack of access to primary care physicians, but the more I explored the topic, the more I realized that the issue is not only that access to PCPs is limited, but that the medical model of primary care itself has changed.

It has been widely discussed among bioethicists and health care policy experts that emergency departments are overcrowded, urgent care centers are rapidlybecoming a substitute for the traditional primary care doctor, and that the number of new physicians specializing in primary care medicine has been declining in favor of other, higher-paying specialties.  Still, many insurance plans require regular visits with a PCP and only cover specialty services if the referral is made by the patient’s primary doctor.  Specialists and urgent care clinicians also insist that patients follow up with their PCP after treatment and make sure that their records are forwarded.  Despite the push for establishing a “medical home” and centralizing care around the primary care physician, demand for urgent care or emergency services is still high, and getting into a practice or getting a timely appointment with a primary care physician is difficult.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

May 14, 2015 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

As a clinical ethics consultant and bioethics professor for many years, it still amazes me that one of the most common problematic features of our healthcare system is the tendency to over treat patients to the point of causing harm and wasting financial resources. The question is, why?

The question, why do physicians generally over treat patients in the U.S., must be approached in light of the fact that we spend more per capita and more overall, about 16% of GDP, on healthcare and get far worse outcomes than do countries like Canada and Western European countries who spend far less of their GDP on healthcare. But to be fair, before we blame physicians entirely for making poor judgments about treatment options, it is important to keep in mind that the U.S. is big, diverse nation with complex social and economic issues where creating efficient systems of healthcare is both practically and politically challenging. Also the U.S. spends more on medical research than most other countries, which still benefits patients everywhere. But what is most uniquely American is an economic system designed by politicians first and foremost for creating wealth for investors and that provides, generally speaking, efficient markets for consumer goods and services. But, whatever the virtues of American capitalism in creating efficient markets, it does not hold true for healthcare.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.  

September 9, 2013 | Posted By Marleen Eijkholt, PhD

Sarah is 10 years old and has cancer. She has lymphoblastic lymphoma, an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. News reports suggest that her parents and Sarah herself, decided to stop chemo treatment. “Sarah’s father said she begged her parents to stop the chemotherapy and they agreed after a great deal of prayer”. Sarah and her family are Amish. Reports note that they refused chemobecause the side effects made Sarah horribly sick, and that she was worried about losing her fertility. They decided to use a doctor who would attempt to treat the cancer with natural medicines, like herbs and vitamins. 

Over the last couple of days, their court battle has been outlined in the media. The hospital, where Sarah had been treated with chemotherapy, had applied for limited guardianship.  Guardianship would allow them to ‘force’ chemo therapy on her, particularly as they estimated her chance of long-term survival around 85% after treatment. Initially, this guardianship request was refused on grounds that it was the parents’ right to end treatment, while on appeal the judge ruled her best-interest had to be reconsidered. However, the most recent judgment reasoned that the parents were concerned and informed, that they have a right to decide about treatment for their child, that there was no guarantee for success of the chemo, and that guardianship & treatment would go against the girl’s wishes as it could cause her infertility. Guardianship was refused; Sarah’s health is governed by her parents.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

July 31, 2013 | Posted By Marleen Eijkholt, PhD

You are mid 50ties, you have several university degrees from top universities, you have a PhD in Chemistry and are happily married. You seem to have a great life, but for one thing: while your legs are fully functioning, you do not want them. And it is not even that you just do not want them; you feel that they do not belong to you. They give you great suffering.

Earlier this week, the Huffington Post reports on Cloe Jennings who suffers from her healthy legs. Reportedly, she suffered from her legs since she was 4 years old and has held the desire to have them amputated or to be paralysed from that time. Jennings is raising money to travel to a surgeon who has offered to help her.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

March 28, 2013 | Posted By Paul Burcher, MD, PhD

Two articles in the New York Times raise a disturbing question regarding the ethics of cancer treatment in this country.  The first on ovarian cancer treatment noted that despite significantly better survival data with intraperitoneal chemotherapy (IP) over intravenous chemotherapy (IV) for ovarian cancer, most oncologists were still using IV chemotherapy. The reason given is that IP chemotherapy is more difficult to give, and more labor intensive, but is not reimbursed at a higher rate.  That is, physicians are routinely withholding the more effective treatment for economic reasons.  Another recent article describes how oncologists tend to choose more expensive chemotherapy even when it is not more effective because they are paid a percentage of the drug’s cost. 

It is an often-repeated truism that physician behavior will follow economic incentives perfectly—if you wish to reduce physician procedures capitate patient care, if you wish to increase patient procedures, pay physicians on a fee-for-service basis.  While this has been empirically demonstrated, it is a bit hard to accept that this adage remains true even when physicians seems to be crossing the line into unethical behavior in order to follow the almighty dollar.  The IP chemotherapy issue is most troubling because it represents physicians giving care they know to be inferior because the better treatment costs more to deliver, and this reduces their own income.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

March 12, 2013 | Posted By Jane Jankowski, LMSW, MS

Thomas Gray first coined the phrase “ignorance is bliss,” in his Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eaton College, but is that truly the case when it comes to the millions of people who are diagnosed with some form of dementia related cognitive impairment? According the a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, early dementia testing may offer many benefits to patients and families who will face long term care needs as the disease progresses.  The article notes that early screening is only one step in a continuum of care and planning. Once a diagnosis is made, do the benefits of knowledge outweigh the burdens for the patient?

When it comes to care planning, the benefits of early detection of a progressive dementia likely do outweigh the burdens, for both patient and family. Depending on the patient’s awareness of the cognitive changes, the individual may be able to indicate wishes for treatment and complete advance directives. Family members can discuss residential options and consider how supervision and support will be provided before they face a crisis. Though many strains may be minimized with early planning, it may be difficult to interpret the patient’s genuine preferences at later stages, and just how much weight should later wishes be given? 

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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