Clinical indication as an ethical appraisal: the example of imaging before middle ear surgery

ORL J Otorhinolaryngol Relat Spec. 2010;72(3):138-43; discussion 144. doi: 10.1159/000272135. Epub 2010 Aug 13.


Purpose of the study: Asking whether imaging is indicated before middle ear surgery requires us to examine the question of indication more generally.

Procedures: Clinical indication integrates different levels, which are distinguished in this paper. As deciding whether or not an intervention is indicated requires different approaches on each of these levels, these approaches are also explored.

Results: Even when sufficient data are available to determine whether an intervention brings some benefit, knowing whether or not this intervention is indicated still requires us to answer 3 additional questions: (1) Is the intervention sufficiently beneficial to be clinically relevant? (2) Is the intervention 'reasonable' in terms of its opportunity costs? (3) How are we to decide which interventions 'make the cut', and which do not? Although we may all have an informed opinion on this topic, the question of the thresholds we ought to apply to very marginal benefits is one where the best answer can only be the one we have all agreed on. This requires a guideline integrating elements of procedural fairness, developed in conditions of protection from the risks of conflicts of interests.

Conclusion: Although some of these questions integrate considerations of costs, not all do. However, all integrate value judgements, making clinical indication in part a question of ethical appraisal.

MeSH terms

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Decision Making / ethics
  • Ear Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Ear Diseases / economics
  • Ear Diseases / surgery*
  • Ear, Middle / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Otologic Surgical Procedures / economics
  • Otologic Surgical Procedures / ethics*
  • Preoperative Care / economics
  • Preoperative Care / ethics*
  • Professional Practice / economics
  • Professional Practice / ethics