Context: Although ethics consultation is commonplace in United States (U.S.) hospitals, descriptive data about this health service are lacking.
Objective: To describe the prevalence, practitioners, and processes of ethics consultation in U.S. hospitals.
Design: A 56-item phone or questionnaire survey of the "best informant" within each hospital.
Participants: Random sample of 600 U.S. general hospitals, stratified by bed size.
Results: The response rate was 87.4%. Ethics consultation services (ECSs) were found in 81% of all general hospitals in the U.S., and in 100% of hospitals with more than 400 beds. The median number of consults performed by ECSs in the year prior to survey was 3. Most individuals performing ethics consultation were physicians (34%), nurses (31%), social workers (11%), or chaplains (10%). Only 41% had formal supervised training in ethics consultation. Consultation practices varied widely both within and between ECSs. For example, 65% of ECSs always made recommendations, whereas 6% never did. These findings highlight a need to clarify standards for ethics consultation practices.