Downward Delegation of Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator Decision-making in a Restricted-resource Environment: The Pitfalls of Bedside Rationing

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The Canadian Journal of Cardiology





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Implantable cardioverter defibrillators have been shown to reduce all-cause mortality in some patient populations at risk of sudden death. New Canadian guidelines recommend implantable cardioverter defibrillator therapy for these patients. However, the need for these devices exceeds the funded volumes in many Canadian jurisdictions. As a result, rationing of this resource has been necessary. While rationing at the macro (Ministry of Health) and meso (hospital) levels has achieved some level of acceptance by society, the responsibility for the decisions taken at the micro (individual) patient level actually rests with the physician at the bedside. This 'bedside rationing' creates a moral dilemma for physicians, who are torn between their traditional fiduciary role as 'patient advocate' and the competing role of 'gatekeeper'. This 'downward delegation' of rationing decision-making obscures the reality that rationing occurs, and encourages covert, opaque and inconsistent approaches. The remedy is the development of fair, legitimate procedures for making rationing decisions that include guidelines that structure and constrain those decisions. Macro- and meso-level stakeholders must also recognize and take responsibility for their part in restricting resources in a broadly inclusive and transparent process.


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