What kinds of cases do paediatricians refer to clinical ethics? Insights from 184 case referrals at an Australian paediatric hospital

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Abstract

Clinical ethics has been developing in paediatric healthcare for several decades. However, information about how paediatricians use clinical ethics case consultation services is extremely limited. In this project, we analysed a large set of case records from the clinical ethics service of one paediatric hospital in Australia. We applied a paediatric-specific typology to the case referrals, based on the triadic doctor–patient–parent relationship. We reviewed the 184 cases referred to the service in the period 2005–2014, noting features including the type of case, the referring department(s) and the patient's age at referral. The two most common types of referral involved clinician uncertainty about the appropriate care pathway for the child (26% of total referrals) and situations where the child's parents disagreed with the doctors’ recommendations for the child's care (22% of total referrals). Referrals came from 28 different departments. Cancer, cardiology/cardiac surgery and general medicine referred the highest numbers of cases. The most common patient age groups were children under 1, and 14–15 years old. For three controversial areas of paediatric healthcare, clinicians had initiated processes of routine review of cases by the clinical ethics service. These insights into the way in which one very active paediatric clinical ethics service is used further our understanding of the work of paediatric clinical ethics, particularly the kinds of ethically challenging cases that paediatricians view as appropriate to refer for clinical ethics support.

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