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Organ Ethic. 2008 Fall-Winter;4(2):83-96.

Priority setting and the ethics of resource allocation within VA healthcare facilities: results of a survey.

Author information

  • 1National Center for Ethics in Health Care (VHA), Department of Veterans Affairs, Seattle, USA. marybeth.foglia@va.gov

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Setting priorities and the subsequent allocation of resources is a major ethical issue facing healthcare facilities, including the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the largest integrated healthcare delivery network in the United States. Yet despite the importance of priority setting and its impact on those who receive and those who provide care, we know relatively little about how clinicians and managers view allocation processes within their facilities.

PURPOSE:

The purpose of this secondary analysis of survey data was to characterize staff members' perceptions regarding the fairness of healthcare ethics practices related to resource allocation in Veterans Administration (VA) facilities. The specific aim of the study was to compare the responses of clinicians, clinician managers, and non-clinician managers with respect to these survey items.

METHODS:

We utilized a paper and web-based survey and a cross-sectional design of VHA clinicians and managers. Our sample consisted of a purposive stratified sample of 109 managers and a stratified random sample of 269 clinicians employed 20 or more hours per week in one of four VA medical centers. The four medical centers were participating as field sites selected to test the logistics of administering and reporting results of the Integrated Ethics Staff Survey, an assessment tool aimed at characterizing a broad range of ethical practices within a healthcare organization.

RESULTS:

In general, clinicians were more critical than clinician managers or non-clinician managers of the institutions' allocation processes and of the impact of resource decisions on patient care. Clinicians commonly reported that they did not (a) understand their facility's decision-making processes, (b) receive explanations from management regarding the reasons behind important allocation decisions, or (b) perceive that they were influential in allocation decisions. In addition, clinicians and managers both perceived that education related to the ethics of resource allocation was insufficient and that their facilities could increase their effectiveness in identifying and resolving ethical problems related to resource allocation.

CONCLUSION:

How well a healthcare facility ensures fairness in the way it allocates its resources across programs and services depends on multiple factors, including awareness by decision makers that setting priorities and allocating resources is a moral enterprise (moral awareness), the availability of a consistent process that includes important stakeholder groups (procedural justice), and concurrence by stakeholders that decisions represent outcomes that fairly balance competing interests and have a positive net effect on the quality of care (distributive justice). In this study, clinicians and managers alike identified the need for improvement in healthcare ethics practices related to resource allocation.

PMID:
18839751
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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