Month: June 2016

Journal of Bioethical Inquiry: Structural Competency Special Issue

“Structural Competency in the U.S. Healthcare Crisis: Putting Social and Policy Interventions Into Clinical Practice.” 

Hansen, Helena and Jonathan Metzl. J Bioeth Inq. 2016 May 13.

This symposium of the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry illustrates structural competency: how clinical practitioners can intervene on social and institutional determinants of health. It will require training clinicians to see and act on structural barriers to health, to adapt imaginative structural approaches from fields outside of medicine, and to collaborate with disciplines and institutions outside of medicine. Case studies of effective work on all of these levels are presented in this volume. The contributors exemplify structural competency from many angles, from the implications of epigenetics for environmental intervention in personalized medicine to the ways clinicians can act on fundamental causes of disease, address abuses of power in clinical training, racially desegregate cities to reduce health disparities, address the systemic causes of torture by police, and implement harm-reduction programs for addiction in the face of punitive drug laws. Together, these contributors demonstrate the unique roles that clinicians can play in breaking systemic barriers to health and the benefit to the U.S. healthcare system of adopting innovations from outside of the United States and outside of clinical medicine.

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Fullilove, T. Mindy and Michel Cantal-Dupart “Medicine for the City: Perspective and Solidarity as Tools for Making Urban Health” J Bioeth Inq. 2016 Mar 29.

The United States has pursued policies of urban upheaval that have undermined social organization, dispersed people, particularly African Americans, and increased rates of disease and disorder. Healthcare institutions have been, and can be, a part of this problem or a part of the solution. This essay addresses two tools that healthcare providers can use to repair the urban ecosystem-perspective and solidarity. Perspective addresses both our ability to envision solutions and our ability to see in the space in which we move. Solidarity is our ability to appreciate our fellowship with other people, a mindset that is at the heart of medical practice. These two tools lay the foundation for structurally competent healthcare providers to act in a restorative manner to create a health-giving built environment.

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Danielle D. Celermajer and Jack Saul “Preventing Torture in Nepal: A Public Health and Human Rights Intervention”J Bioeth Inq. 2016 Mar 29.

In this article we address torture in military and police organizations as a public health and human rights challenge that needs to be addressed through multiple levels of intervention. While most mental health approaches focus on treating the harmful effects of such violence on individuals and communities, the goal of the project described here was to develop a primary prevention strategy at the institutional level to prevent torture from occurring in the first place. Such an approach requires understanding and altering the conditions that cause and sustain “atrocity producing situations” (Lifton 2000, 2004). Given the persistence of torture across the world and its profound health consequences, this is an increasingly important issue in global health and human rights.

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Ernest Drucker , Kenneth Anderson, Robert Haemmig, Robert Heimer, Dan Small, Alex Walley, Evan Wood, and Ingrid van Beek “Treating Addictions: Harm Reduction in Clinical Care and Prevention”J Bioeth Inq. 2016 Mar 29.

This paper examines the role of clinical practitioners and clinical researchers internationally in establishing the utility of harm-reduction approaches to substance use. It thus illustrates the potential for clinicians to play a pivotal role in health promoting structural interventions based on harm-reduction goals and public health models. Popular media images of drug use as uniformly damaging, and abstinence as the only acceptable goal of treatment, threaten to distort clinical care away from a basis in evidence, which shows that some ways of using drugs are far more harmful than others and that punitive approaches and insistence on total abstinence as the only goal of treatment often increases the harms of drug use rather than reducing drug use. Therefore the leadership and scientific authority of clinicians who understand the health impact of harm-reduction strategies is needed. Through a review of harm-reduction interventions in Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, we identify three ways that clinicians have helped to achieve a paradigm shift from punitive approaches to harm-reduction principles in clinical care and in drug policy: (1) through clinical research to provide data establishing the effectiveness and feasibility of harm-reduction approaches, (2) by developing innovative clinical programmes that employ harm reduction, and thereby (3) changing the standard of care to include routine use of these evidence-based (but often misunderstood) approaches in their practices. We argue that through promotion of harm-reduction goals and methods, clinicians have unique opportunities to improve the health outcomes of vulnerable populations.

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Adam D. Reich , Helena B. Hansen, and Bruce G. Link “Fundamental Interventions: How Clinicians Can Address the Fundamental Causes of Disease”J Bioeth Inq. 2016 Mar 29.

In order to enhance the “structural competency” of medicine—the capability of clinicians to address social and institutional determinants of their patients’ health—physicians need a theoretical lens to see how social conditions influence health and how they might address them. We consider one such theoretical lens, fundamental cause theory, and propose how it might contribute to a more structurally competent medical profession. We first describe fundamental cause theory and how it makes the social causes of disease and health visible. We then outline the sorts of “fundamental interventions” that physicians might make in order to address the fundamental causes.
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Angoff, R. Nancy , Duncan, Laura, Roxas, Nichole, and Hansen, Helena. “Power Day: Addressing the Use and Abuse of Power in Medical Training” J Bioeth Inq. 2016 Mar 15.

PROBLEM:Medical student mistreatment, as well as patient and staff mistreatment by all levels of medical trainees and faculty, is still prevalent in U.S. clinical training. Largely missing in interventions to reduce mistreatment is acknowledgement of the abuse of power produced by the hierarchical structure in which medicine is practiced. APPROACH:Beginning in 2001, Yale School of Medicine has held annual “Power Day” workshops for third year medical students and advanced practice nursing students, to define and analyse power dynamics within the medical hierarchy and hidden curriculum using literature, guest speakers, and small groups. During rotations, medical students write narratives about the use of power witnessed in the wards. In response to student and small group leader feedback, workshop organizers have developed additional activities related to examining and changing the use of power in clinical teams. OUTCOME:Emerging narrative themes included the potential impact of small acts and students feeling “mute” and “complicit” in morally distressing situations. Small groups provided safe spaces for advice, support, and professional identity formation. By 2005, students recognized residents that used power positively with Power Day awards and alumni served as keynote speakers on the use of power in medicine. By 2010, departments including OB/GYN, surgery, psychiatry, and paediatrics, had added weekly team Power Hour discussions. Next Steps: The authors highlight barriers, benefits, and lessons learned. Barriers include the notion of clinical irrelevance and resistance to the word “power” due to perceived accusation of abuse. Benefits include promoting open dialogue about power, fostering inter-professional collaboration, rewarding positive role modelling by residents and faculty, and creating a network of trainee empowerment and leadership. Furthermore, faculty have started to ask that issues of power be addressed in a more transparent way at their level of the hierarchy as well.

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