Values, Quality, and Evaluation in Ethics Consultation

AJOB Empir Bioeth. 2016;7(4):227-234. doi: 10.1080/23294515.2015.1127295. Epub 2016 Jan 12.


Background: The American Society for Bioethics and Humanities has recommended regular evaluation of the quality of Health Care Ethics Consultation. This manuscript discusses the impact of ethics consultation on clinicians' perceptions of a patient's plan of care and on the personal values of clinicians who participated in an ethics consultation.

Methods: Following IRB approval, select data points were abstracted from case file report forms for ethics consultations over a 12 month period. Clinicians involved in the care of a patient who was the focus of an ethics consultation were invited to participate in an anonymous online survey. Clinicians who initiated an ethics consultation, were interviewed during the course of an ethics consultation, or were present at a patient care conference attended by an ethics consultant were invited to participate. A purposive sampling approach was used to invite clinicians to participate in an in-person interview.

Results: The survey response rate was 44.4% (123 respondents from 277 invited). Over 60% of participants felt the consultation helped clarify the values of the patient and/or patient's family and helped them clarify their own values. Only 32% of participants indicated the patient's plan of care changed as a result of the ethics consultation, yet 75% indicated their confidence in the plan of care increased as a result of the ethics consultation. Preliminary findings from the qualitative interviews support the overall positive assessments reported by survey respondents.

Conclusions: Ethics consultation can help clinicians clarify their own values and helps them clarify the values of patients and patients' families. Ethics consultation offers meaningful support when clinicians face ethically challenging cases, provides an opportunity to address moral distress, and is viewed favorably by those who experience the resource.