November 30, 2007

Stahlman Scholars to explore ethics issues

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Stahlman Scholars to explore ethics issues

Kimberly Lomis, M.D., assistant professor of Surgery; Bradley Malin, Ph.D., assistant professor of Biomedical Informatics; and Bonnie Miller, M.D., associate dean for Undergraduate Medical Education, have been named the 2008 Stahlman Scholars in Biomedical Ethics and Society.

The Stahlman Scholar program promotes and expands ethics in research, teaching and patient care. Scholars interact with the Center's faculty and present their research findings at local and national meetings.

Each scholar will receive $15,000 in salary support and $2,500 in research funds during the six-month scholarship period, which begins Jan. 1, 2008. Funding for Malin and Lomis comes from the Ann Geddes Stahlman Professorship in Medical Ethics. Miller's funding comes from the Stahlman Professorship and the Office of the Dean of the School of Medicine.

“We are delighted to be able to have three scholars for 2008,” said Larry Churchill, Ph.D., Ann Geddes Stahlman Professor of Medical Ethics. “We are grateful to the Stahlman family for making this possible, and also to Dean (Steven) Gabbe, who has advocated this work from the beginning.”

Lomis will explore whether health care teams can provide the same level of responsibility to patients as individual physicians exhibit.

“This responsibility was one-on-one, but now must translate to the team,” Lomis said. “This offers advantages, but we might lose the dedication to the patient that defines the doctor-patient relationship.”

Lomis' project arose from work-hour restrictions that require residents to leave the hospital after a given period, regardless of their responsibility to patients.

Malin's research will explore the ethical issues of medical data privacy and technology. He plans to incorporate ethical components into a medical data privacy course for VUSM and will investigate ethical issues around “de-identified” medical records, which have been stripped of ways to directly identify an individual patient.

The process may appear to guarantee anonymity, but research shows that many de-identified records are vulnerable to “re-identification” using automated techniques, Malin said.

“Hospitals are using technology to collect, store and share large quantities of personal health records. Scientists need access to patient-specific data without violating patients' privacy rights,” Malin said.

Miller, also associate professor of Medical Education and Administration and associate professor of Clinical Surgery, plans to gather stories from seasoned physicians about patients they remember most poignantly. She will analyze the stories to see what information they provide about formation of professional identity.

“Our identities are always evolving, and I hope to understand how stories reflect this process,” said Miller. “The patients we remember most may shed light on what we value most as individual physicians — for example, trust or long-term relationships.”