Impact of moral case deliberation in healthcare settings: a literature review

BMC Medical Ethics 19 (1):85 (2018)
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Abstract

An important and supposedly impactful form of clinical ethics support is moral case deliberation. Empirical evidence, however, is limited with regard to its actual impact. With this literature review, we aim to investigate the empirical evidence of MCD, thereby a) informing the practice, and b) providing a focus for further research on and development of MCD in healthcare settings. A systematic literature search was conducted in the electronic databases PubMed, CINAHL and Web of Science. Both the data collection and the qualitative data analysis followed a stepwise approach, including continuous peer review and careful documentation of our decisions. The qualitative analysis was supported by ATLAS.ti. Based on a qualitative analysis of 25 empirical papers, we identified four clusters of themes: 1) facilitators and barriers in the preparation and context of MCD, i.e., a safe and open atmosphere created by a facilitator, a concrete case, commitment of participants, a focus on the moral dimension, and a supportive organization; 2) changes that are brought about on a personal and inter-professional level, with regard to professional’s feelings of relief, relatedness and confidence; understanding of the perspectives of colleagues, one’s own perspective and the moral issue at stake; and awareness of the moral dimension of one’s work and awareness of the importance of reflection; 3) changes that are brought about in caring for patients and families; and 4) changes that are brought about on an organizational level. This review shows that MCD brings about changes in practice, mostly for the professional in inter-professional interactions. Most reported changes are considered positive, although challenges, frustrations and absence of change were also reported. Empirical evidence of a concrete impact on the quality of patient care is limited and is mostly based on self-reports. With patient-focused and methodologically sound qualitative research, the practice and the value of MCD in healthcare settings can be better understood, thus making a stronger case for this kind of ethics support.

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