Preventive ethics: addressing ethics quality gaps on a systems level

Jt Comm J Qual Patient Saf. 2012 Mar;38(3):103-11. doi: 10.1016/s1553-7250(12)38014-8.


Background: Preventive ethics (PE) is a key component of IntegratedEthics (IE), an innovative model developed by the Veterans Health Administration (VA)'s National Center for Ethics in Health Care which establishes a comprehensive, systematic, integrated approach to ethics in health care organizations. Since early 2008, IE has been implemented throughout all 153 medical centers and 21 regional networks within the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system.

Issues: A STEP-BY-STEP APPROACH TO ETHICS QUALITY IMPROVEMENT: PE employs a systematic, step-by-step process improvement approach called

Issues: Identify an issue, Study the issue, Select a strategy, Undertake a plan, Evaluate and adjust, and Sustain and spread. After the ethics quality gap is described, a measureable and achievable improvement goal based on the gap is developed. One of the most challenging aspects of describing an ethics quality gap is to establish an appropriate ethical standard on which to base the operational definition of best ethics practice. PRACTICAL STEPS TO DEVELOPING A PREVENTIVE ETHICS FUNCTION: Within the VA's IE model, PE is situated as a subcommittee of the IE council, which is chaired by the facility director (equivalent to a hospital chief executive officer) and oversees all aspects of the organization's ethics program, including ethical leadership, ethics consultation, and PE. Each VA medical center is required to have a PE team led and managed by a PE coordinator and may need to address ethics issues across the full range of health care ethics domains.

Conclusions: The VA's IE model establishes a robust conceptual framework, along with concrete tools and resources, to integrate PE concepts into the day-to-day operations of a health care organization and is directly transferrable to other health care organizations and systems.

MeSH terms

  • Advisory Committees
  • Delivery of Health Care / ethics*
  • Ethics, Clinical*
  • Ethics, Institutional*
  • Humans
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Quality Improvement / organization & administration*
  • Systems Analysis
  • United States
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs