The Effectiveness of Standardized Patient Simulation in Training Hospital Ethics Committees


David Y. Harari and Robert C. Macauley


Clinical simulation using standardized patients has become standard in medical education—and is now being incorporated into some graduate programs in bioethics—for both formative and summative evaluation. In most hospitals, though, clinical ethics consultation is done by the ethics committee (or a subset of it). This study is the first, to our knowledge, to examine the effectiveness of standardized patient simulation in training hospital ethics committees to deal with ethically complex and emotionally fraught clinical situations. Following a substantial revision of the institution’s nonbeneficial treatment policy, ethics committee members underwent a simulation to determine whether a specific requested treatment should be withheld on the basis of futility. Pre- and post-intervention surveys showed improvement in all domains, although the small sample size limited the power of the study, with only one measure showing a statistically significant difference. An interesting incidental finding was that one-quarter of committee members voted against a determination of futility, even though the case clearly met the definition set forth in the policy. This highlights the emotional challenges in implementing an ethically rigorous, unanimously accepted policy that ultimately determines the timing and manner of a patient’s death.



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