Opening the Black Box of Ethics Policy Work: Evaluating a Covert Practice
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Hospital ethics committees (HECs) and ethicists generally describe themselves as engaged in four domains of practice: case consultation, research, education, and policy work. Despite the increasing attention to quality indicators, practice standards, and evaluation methods for the other domains, comparatively little is known or published about the policy work of HECs or ethicists. This article attempts to open the "black box" of this health care ethics practice by providing two detailed case examples of ethics policy reviews. We also describe the development and application of an evaluation strategy to assess the quality of ethics policy review work, and to enable continuous improvement of ethics policy review processes. Given the potential for policy work to impact entire patient populations and organizational systems, it is imperative that HECs and ethicists develop clearer roles, responsibilities, procedural standards, and evaluation methods to ensure the delivery of consistent, relevant, and high-quality ethics policy reviews.