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A National Study of Ethics Committees

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Conceived as a solution to clinical dilemmas, and now required by organizations for hospital accreditation, ethics committees have been subject only to small-scale studies. The wide use of ethics committees and the diverse roles they play compel study. In 1999 the University of Pennsylvania Ethics Committee Research Group (ECRG) completed the first national survey of the presence, composition, and activities of U.S. healthcare ethics committees (HECs). Ethics committees are relatively young, on average seven years in operation. Eighty-six percent of ethics committees report that they play a role in ongoing clinical decision making through clinical ethics consultation. All are engaged in developing institutional clinical policy. Although 4.5% of HECs write policy on managed care, 50% of HEC chairs feel inadequately prepared to address managed care. The power and activity of ethics committees parallels the composition of those committees and the relationship of members to their institutions. The role of ethics committees across the nation in making policies about clinical care is greater than was known, and ethics committees will likely continue to play an important role in the debate and resolution of clinical cases and clinical policies.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of Pennsylvania 2: Stanford University 3: Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center

Publication date: 01 December 2001

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