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Topic: Doctor-Patient Relationships
January 11, 2013 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

As someone who has done clinical ethics consultations for many years I long ago reached the conclusion that many of the so-called ethical problems that we encounter during ethics consultations could be prevented if only a more constructive line of communication had been established from the beginning of the patient’s hospital stay. Let me specify just what kind of patients and families I have in mind, the kind of communication I am talking about and the type of intervention that is needed.

Let’s face it, most patients come to the hospital with an identifiable medical problem about which there is little controversy, so the physician can diagnose and treat with a predictable, usually favorable, outcome. These are not the cases for which we get called on to do ethics consultations, nor are they the cases that take excessive amounts of time and create significant emotional stress such as cases that involve conflicts. In the less common cases where serious conflicts between various parties emerge, we are usually dealing with patients who have more medical problems, which often involve the risk of dying. The patient often lacks capacity and is unable to speak his or her mind about the goals of care and how far to use aggressive medical interventions. This means that families or loved ones of the patient must speak for the patient, i.e. serve as surrogates, and communicate with physicians about care plan goals and the appropriateness of particular procedures such as CPR in the event of cardio-pulmonary arrest.  To say the least, this is a stressful role for families and loved ones.

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.

 

November 23, 2012 | Posted By Jane Jankowski, LMSW, MS

Giving bad news is a difficult thing to do. Receiving bad news is hard, too, but is perhaps a close second to hearing a complicated, vague version of the same set of facts. In healthcare, the failure to disclose pertinent facts in clear, uncomplicated language and verify the information is understood is harmful to the recipient of this information, but also to the provider, who must often untangle the resulting misunderstandings later on.  Families and patients who find they are asking "Why didn’t someone tell me?" may be on the receiving end of an attempt to give bad news.

I tend to think of these vague communication moments as 'dodges.' Rather than stating "I believe your Aunt Lila’s condition will not improve and we need to talk about what kind of care she would want" is instead a listing of diagnoses, medications, lab values, and a review of body systems, surgical options, and statistical probabilities. This type of encounter shifts the focus from the overall prognosis to the details, which though factual, obscure the big picture of a patient who is not expected to recover. Avoiding a frank disclosure of the fact that a patient is doing poorly doesn’t help the patient, and does not help anyone make informed decisions. But it serves a purpose in the moment. Sidestepping the straightforward presentation of bad news may avert or postpone the experience of delivering upsetting news and witnessing the emotional suffering of others who hear it. I get it. It is stressful and distressing to be the source of often devastating news. Yet, we must keep in mind that the news itself is the source of the upset, and the bearer of the news need not feel morally culpably for the facts. The old adage applies, 'it’s not what you say, it is how you say it.' We owe it to medical providers to give them adequate practice and training in delivering bad news as well as opportunities to observe experienced practitioners talk with patients and families when critical conversations are held.

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 30, 2012 | Posted By Michael Brannigan, PhD

Here is cardiac surgeon Christiaan Barnard's account of his conversation with Louis Washkansky just before he performed on him the first human heart transplant, in 1967:

"'We know you have a heart disease for which we can do nothing more. You have had all possible treatment, and you are getting no better. We can put a normal heart into you, after taking out your heart that's no longer any good, and there's a chance you can get back to normal life again.'

"'So they told me. So I'm ready to go ahead.'

"Washkansky said no more. His eyes remained on me but with no indication he wanted to know anything more.

"'Well, then ... goodbye,' I said.

"'Goodbye.'"

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 ourwebsite.

October 12, 2012 | Posted By Jane Jankowski, LMSW, MS

A patient walks into her local Emergency Department complaining of back pain. She appears uncomfortable, and states that she was injured in a car accident about a year ago and now has chronic pain in her back. Her x-ray looks normal. She states that her pain is best managed with regular doses of oxycodone, but she ran out and has not been able to see her regular doctor for a refill. She came to the Emergency Department for a prescription instead. Imagine you are the physician. What action would you take?

a. Provide a dose of medication to the patient in the ER to be sure it will be adequate and give the patient a prescription for a couple days’ worth of the requested medication.

b. Call her regular doctor to confirm the medication and dose before providing any medication.

c. Check the state database to be sure this patient is not seeking prescriptions from multiple providers.

d. Offer only non-narcotic pain medications.

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 11, 2012 | Posted By Jane Jankowski, LMSW, MS

Plans are underway at some drug store chains and other discount retailers to open in-store clinics which will offer an expanded menu of low cost vaccines and basic clinic services to consumers. Vaccines for flu and pneumonia have been available at retail locations for a number of years, and have become a familiar practice at drugstore chains and other retailers particularly during autumn when the newest flu vaccines are available. A folding table and chairs, consent forms, alcohol swabs and a sharps container typically wait at the end of often long lines of people seeking these prophylactic shots. More recently, several retailers began opening in-store clinics and current estimates of existing in-store clinics hover around 1,300. The pending expansion of these clinics may bring the numbers up to over 3,000 within the next 3 years. 

The self-proclaimed low price leader, Wal-Mart, plans to open independently owned and operated in-store clinics which will treat walk-in patients seven days a week. The list of services ranges from acne care and common vaccines to flu treatment (for those who missed the Wal-Mart flu shots) and upper respiratory infections. It seems reasonable to presume that other in-store clinics are or will be similarly equipped. For the millions of Americans who have difficulty accessing primary care, this may be a tolerable solution which falls somewhere in between going to the ER for these routine healthcare issues and having a primary care physician who can provide comprehensive on-going care. As noted in a piece printed in The Detroit News, the Affordable Care Act will thrust millions of newly insured patients into the waiting rooms of medical offices clogging an already strained primary care system. Perhaps the locating clinics in popular stores is a kind of outreach for clinic owners who  have been unsuccessful in efforts to provide care to underserved populations. I am not convinced these clinics represent such altruistic intentions. This expansion of medical services raises questions about whether or not this venue truly supports the best interests of patients.

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 ourwebsite.

June 19, 2012 | Posted By Michael Brannigan, PhD

Does the case for terminal sedation actually weaken the case against physician-assisted suicide?

Terminal sedation, more clinically referred to as "palliative sedation," is a legally sanctioned alternative to physician-assisted suicide, a last resort in palliative treatment. It involves inducing and maintaining unconsciousness in a terminally ill patient until the patient dies, and is often accompanied by withholding or withdrawing medical feeding and hydration.

For example, if, in my advanced cancer, I experience intolerable pain, delirium, dyspnea or distress, to alleviate these unmanageable symptoms I let my physician sedate me into unconsciousness until I die. Sort of like undergoing anesthesia before surgery, without waking up.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

June 14, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.
Dr. Robert Klitzman Am I My Genes
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Dr. Robert Klitzman is the author of the recently released “Am I My Genes: Confronting Fate and Family Secrets in the Age of Genetic Testing”, published by Oxford University Press. He is Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and the Director of the Masters of Bioethics Program at Columbia University. Dr. Klitzman co-founded and for five years co-directed the Columbia University Center for Bioethics, and is the Director of the Ethics and Policy Core of the HIV Center.

In our wide-ranging interview, Dr. Klitzman discusses

  • The impact of genetic testing on patients with Huntington’s disease, breast cancer and ovarian cancer, and alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency
  • The implications of recent genetic breakthroughs for these people and their families
  • Ethical issues involved in genetic testing, including disclosing results to family and friends, disclosing results to employers and insurers, whether to have children, whether to screen embryos, and privacy concerns
  • How to confront fatalism, anxiety, and despair
  • How to prepare, ethically and personally, for the likelihood of readily available genetic testing in the near future

Dr. Klitzman also discusses his previous book, When Doctors Become Patients, published by Oxford University Press.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

June 11, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

Does a person have a disease or disorder? Or is the person unwell with an illness? Are the concepts of disease and illness distinct? If we have been lulled to sleep by 100 years of Cartesian diktats from the medical establishment, we may miss the point. But if our thinking is super-sharp, we may be able to detect a critical difference.

A prominent legacy of Cartesian dualism, the mind/body problem, causes a split between the “I” that I know myself to be and the physical body that the “I” inhabits. “I” am a passenger in my body. My body carries “me” around, but we are two separate entities. Thus, my body is something separate from “me” and things can happen to it, e.g., my body can become diseased.

The practice of modern medicine is based on this seemingly real separation. But if that’s all there is, much is being missed. Investigation of the illness vs. disease antinomy offers a profound opportunity for improved medical care of people as patients.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

June 10, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

Medicine as treatment or medicine as healing? Despite facile responses, these two constructions are distinct. It is possible that the failure to distinguish between the the modalities of treatment and healing is responsible for much of the current health care mess. Such failure may also account in large part for the abject failure of medicine to provide meaningful solutions to the epidemics of type II diabetes and overweight/obesity. Similarly, when a person ill with cancer or a person ill with a cardiovascular disorder encounters the health care system, the orientation of his physicians to treatment or healing will have a significant impact on the person’s long-term health and well-being.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

May 19, 2012 | Posted By Posted By David Lemberg, M.S., D.C.

We (in America) live in a capitalist society. That is a given. We also live in a democratic society. The Declaration of Independence states that all men [humans] are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is not clear that any of these specific rights can be fulfilled when access to a minimum standard of health care is denied, obstructed, or otherwise not available. In the case when health care is available, that care needs to be delivered stripped of any considerations other than those related to providing assistance for that patient.

But in America many ancillary considerations intervene. Care of a patient is confounded by care for special interests, often involving kickbacks (whether in the form of travel expenses, gifts, complimentary lunches and dinners, or even cash payments) rendered by obsequious agents of big pharma or medical device corporations. Worse, on a broader scale, the recent phenomenon of the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) blithely granting biomedical patents to any and all comers has seriously harmed medical practice and the health of Americans in need.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.

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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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