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Topic: Patient Care
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.

September 26, 2012 | Posted By Hayley Dittus-Doria, MPH

An article about the concept of overtreatment recently caught my eye. We live in a world of excess-bigger houses and larger food portions, among others. These are necessarily bad, just perhaps more than we need. The same goes for medical treatment. Like many things in the U.S., people equate “more” or “bigger” with “better.”

The problem with this mentality when it comes to healthcare procedures is the large cost that comes with it. According to the article, overtreatment is costing the U.S. healthcare system $210 billion each year. And spending that money doesn’t earn us high marks in terms of our health outcomes compared to the rest of theworld. Between “one fifth and one third of our health care dollars” are spent “on care that does nothing to improve our health” according to Shannon Brownlee, author of “Overtreated.” In a 2009 New Yorker article, Dr. Atul Gwande also points out the fact that simply because you’re receiving more aggressive healthcare doesn’t necessarily mean you’re healthier. 

Overtreatment has additional, non-financial ramifications as well. Emotional consequences can be quite serious. What if you had a cough for a few weeks? And when looking into the cough, you discover something else? And when looking into that new diagnosis, yet another problem comes to light? When your expectation was just to be treated for your cough, would you want to find out all of the other illnesses you might have? Maybe. But maybe not. Perhaps, other than your cough, you felt fine, but now your days are spent getting test done, blood work run, procedures scheduled.

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.

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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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