Certifying clinical ethics consultants: who pays?

J Clin Ethics. Summer 2011;22(2):194-9.


The movement advocating the formal certification of clinical ethics consultants may result in major changes to the field of clinical ethics consultation by creating a new standard of care. The actual certification process is still in the development phase, but unanswered questions include: What will certification cost, and, Who will pay? Currently there is little salary support for ethics consultants and no regulation requiring healthcare institutions to offer clinical ethics consultation. Without the support of healthcare administrators and accreditation bodies, this may remain unchanged. Healthcare administrators may be unwilling to pay for certification or professional services if accreditation bodies do not require healthcare institutions to provide certified ethics consultants' services. If consultants will not be reimbursed or paid, they may not seek certification. If certified consultants are required, healthcare administrators may look for ways to cover the costs for providing this service, including insurance or third-party reimbursement and direct billing of patients for consultations, which may affect who performs and who participates in ethics consultation. However, this is less than ideal, as bioethicists believe ethics consultation should be available to all as part of providing safe, quality ethical care and support and guidance for patients, families, and healthcare staff. Going forward, bioethicists should study quality improvement, patient safety, and cost-savings resulting from certification-eligible clinical ethics consultants' activities. Administrators and financial personnel can be surveyed regarding their support for the certification process. Bioethicists should enlist the help of patient rights and safety advocacy groups, professional medical associations, and healthcare administrators. Bioethicists should invite accreditation bodies, healthcare administrators, and financial personnel to collaborate in the development of the certification process. Without their support, certification may be of value only to the bioethics community, and may have little standing in actual clinical healthcare institution settings.

MeSH terms

  • Certification* / economics
  • Consultants*
  • Ethicists* / education
  • Ethics, Clinical*
  • Hospital Administrators
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health, Reimbursement
  • Professional Competence / economics*
  • Professional Competence / standards
  • Quality Improvement
  • Salaries and Fringe Benefits
  • Standard of Care / economics*
  • United States