Hospital ethics reflection groups: a learning and development resource for clinical practice

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BACKGROUND: An ethics reflection group (ERG) is one of a number of ethics support services developed to better handle ethical challenges in healthcare. The aim of this article is to evaluate the significance of ERGs in psychiatric and general hospital departments in Denmark.

METHODS: This is a qualitative action research study, including systematic text condensation of 28 individual interviews and 4 focus groups with clinicians, ethics facilitators and ward managers. Short written descriptions of the ethical challenges presented in the ERGs also informed the analysis of significance.

RESULTS: A recurring ethical challenge for clinicians, in a total of 63 cases described and assessed in 3 ethical reflection groups, is to strike a balance between respect for patient autonomy, paternalistic responsibility, professional responsibilities and institutional values. Both in psychiatric and general hospital departments, the study participants report a positive impact of ERG, which can be divided into three categories: 1) Significance for patients, 2) Significance for clinicians, and 3) Significance for ward managers. In wards characterized by short-time patient admissions, the cases assessed were retrospective and the beneficiaries of improved dialogue mainly future patients rather than the patients discussed in the specific ethical challenge presented. In wards with longer admissions, the patients concerned also benefitted from the dialogue in the ERG.

CONCLUSION: This study indicates a positive significance and impact of ERGs; constituting an interdisciplinary learning resource for clinicians, creating significance for themselves, the ward managers and the organization. By introducing specific examples, this study indicates that ERGs have significance for the patients discussed in the specific ethical challenge, but mostly indirectly through learning among clinicians and development of clinical practice. More research is needed to further investigate the impact of ERGs seen from the perspectives of patients and relatives.

Original languageEnglish
Article number75
JournalBMC Medical Ethics
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 24. Oct 2019


  • Action research
  • Emergency hospital
  • Ethics reflection groups
  • Evaluation
  • Psychiatric hospital
  • Significance


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