AJOB Primary Research.

The use of an online comment system in clinical ethics consultation

Background: Although a mechanism for resolving ethical issues in patient care is required for accreditation of American hospitals, there are no formal qualifications for providing clinical ethics consultation (CEC), and there remains great variability in the composition of ethics committees and consult services. Consequently, the quality of CEC also varies depending on the qualifications of those performing CEC services and the format of CEC utilized at an institution. Our institution implemented an online CEC comment system to build upon existing practices to promote consistency and broad consensus in CEC services and enable quality assurance. Methods: This qualitative study explored the use of an online comment system in ethics consultation and its impact on consensus building and quality assurance. All adult ethics consultations recorded between January 2011 and May 2015 (n = 159) were analyzed for themes using both open and directed coding methods. Results: We found that comments broadly reflected three categories: expressions of approval/agreement (87% of consults), comments about the case (89%), and comments about the written record (72%). More than one-third of consults included responses to other comments (37%). The most common types of “comments about the case” included requests for additional information (36%), recommendations for additional services (21%), and references to formal policies/standards (28%). Comments often spanned multiple categories and themes. Comments about the written record emphasized accessibility, clarity, and specificity in ethics consultation communication. Conclusions: We find the online system allows for broad committee participation in consultations and helps improve the quality of CEC provided by allowing for substantive discussion and consensus building. Further, we find the use of an online comment system and subsequent records can serve as an educational tool for students, trainees, and ethics committee members.

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Volume 8, Issue 3
September 2017