Clinical Ethics Consultation During the First COVID-19 Pandemic Surge at an Academic Medical Center: A Mixed Methods Analysis

HEC Forum 35 (4):371-388 (2023)
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Abstract

While a significant literature has appeared discussing theoretical ethical concerns regarding COVID-19, particularly regarding resource prioritization, as well as a number of personal reflections on providing patient care during the early stages of the pandemic, systematic analysis of the actual ethical issues involving patient care during this time is limited. This single-center retrospective cohort mixed methods study of ethics consultations during the first surge of the COVID 19 pandemic in Massachusetts between March 15, 2020 through June 15, 2020 aim to fill this gap. Results indicate that there was no significant difference in the median number of monthly consultation cases during the first COVID-19 surge compared to the same period the year prior and that the characteristics of the ethics consults during the COVID-19 surge and same period the year prior were also similar. Through inductive analysis, we identified four themes related to ethics consults during the first COVID-19 surge including (1) prognostic difficulty for COVID-19 positive patients, (2) challenges related to visitor restrictions, (3) end of life scenarios, and (4) family members who were also positive for COVID-19. Cases were complex and often aligned with multiple themes. These patient case-related sources of ethical issues were managed against the backdrop of intense systemic ethical issues and a near lockdown of daily life. Healthcare ethics consultants can learn from this experience to enhance training to be ready for future disasters.

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