Occupational Stress: Doctors Suffer When Unable To Save Lives

Occupational Stress: Doctors Suffer When Unable To Save Lives

Posted on Thursday, November 29th, 2012 at 1:03 pm by Life Matters Media

Physicians who treat the terminally ill may suffer from emotional stress when unable to save patients’ lives. Burnout and compassion fatigue are two serious forms of occupational stress physicians may suffer, according to research by Michael Kearney, M.D.

Kearney, a palliative care physician at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital in California, describes burnout as “the end stage of stresses between the individual and the work environment.” Compassion fatigue is “secondary post-traumatic stress disorder, or vicarious traumatization — trauma suffered when someone close to you is suffering.”

Health care journalist Jane Brody addresses the stress and anxiety oncologists struggle with in a new article for The New York Times. Brody writes, “A doctor with compassion fatigue may avoid thoughts and feelings associated with a patient’s misery, become irritable and easily angered, and face physical and emotional distress when reminded of work with the dying.” Compassion fatigue may lead to burnout.

Up to 60 percent of practicing physicians report symptoms of burnout.

According to Brody: “Patients and families may not realize it, but doctors who care for people with incurable illness, and especially the terminally ill, often suffer with their patients. Unable to cope with their own feelings of frustration, failure and helplessness, doctors may react with anger, abruptness and avoidance.”

Physician suicide linked to occupational stress

According to Crystal Phend, senior staff writer for MedPage Today, “Suicide among physicians appears to follow a different profile than in the general population, with a greater role played by job stress and mental health problems.”

Phend cites a study by Katherine J. Gold, M.D., of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who found that problems with work were three times more likely to have contributed to a physician’s suicide than a nonphysician’s. Mental illness was also 34 percent more common before a suicide among physicians.

Up to 60 percent of practicing physicians report symptoms of burnout

“The results of this study paint a picture of the typical physician suicide victim that is substantially different from that of the nonphysician suicide victim in several important ways,” Gold wrote for General Hospital Psychiatry. “Inadequate treatment and increased problems related to job stress may be potentially modifiable risk factors to reduce suicidal death among physicians.”

Although physicians have more access to health care, they may be reluctant to seek help. “I think stigma about mental health is a huge part of the story. There is a belief that physicians should be able to avoid depression or just ‘get over it’ by themselves,” Gold wrote.

More than 200 of the 31,636 suicide victims reported in the National Violent Death Reporting System from 2003 to 2008 were physicians.

Meditation may help physicians

A 2008 study published by the Journal of Palliative Medicine, in which researchers studied 18 oncologists, found that physicians who viewed their work with patients as both biomedical and psychosocial found end of life more satisfying than those with a more biomedical perspective.

“Physicians, who viewed their physician role as encompassing both biomedical and psychosocial aspects of care, reported a clear method of communication about end of life care, and an ability to positively influence patient and family coping with and acceptance of the dying process,” the researchers concluded.

“In contrast, participants who described primarily a biomedical role reported a more distant relationship with the patient, a sense of failure at not being able to alter the course of the disease, and an absence of collegial support.”

Kearney recommends “mindfulness meditation,” a Buddhist-influenced practice for physicians suffering from stress. “The doctor is able to recognize he’s being stressed, and it prevents him from invoking the survival defense mechanisms of fight (‘Let’s do another course of chemotherapy’), flight (‘There’s nothing more I can do for you — I’ll go get the chaplain’) and freeze (the doctor goes blank and does nothing).” He claims that even 8-10 minutes a day of “mindfulness meditation” can help.


Illinois Lawmaker Pushes Medical Marijuana

Posted on Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 at 8:55 pm by Life Matters Media

Illinois lawmaker pushes for medical marijuana bill

An Illinois sponsor of a medical marijuana measure says he may have enough votes to pass the bill in the Statehouse, the Chicago Tribune reportsRep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, says his “nose count” has him near the 60 votes needed for approval of a three-year trial medical marijuana program called the Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Pilot Program Act, which would be a first for Ill.

“If members vote their consciences, I’ll have the votes,” said Lang, who fell short a handful of votes last year, although the Senate approved similar previous legislation in 2010.

This season may be different, however, because three dozen lawmakers in the House and Senate are not coming back in the next General Assembly, making them lame ducks, Ray Long reports. “Their votes are more likely to be up for grabs given that they are not expected to face the voters again.”

CBS News reports that advocates of medical marijuana are in Springfield to lobby state lawmakers to approve the use of medical marijuana with strict limitations. The drug would only be prescribed by doctors, in small amounts, to qualifying terminally ill patients or their designated caregivers. Individuals suffering from AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis or a “debilitating medical condition” may qualify.

A qualifying patient or caregiver would only be able to legally possess 6 cannabis plants and 2 ounces of dried usable cannabis during a two-week period.

State Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Countryside, opposes the measure because he fears it will make the drug more available. “Just in the last two weeks in DeKalb, there was a 10-pound traffic stop of medical marijuana that came from Oregon,” Durkin said.

The AP reports that Rep. Jim Sacia, R-Freeport, acknowledges that Lang may have enough votes to pass the measure, but the former FBI agent still plans to fight it. “I just see it as a tremendous mistake,” said Sacia.

Lang may bring the measure to vote this week at the General Assembly. He told the AP that there are “a whole bunch of people who are wavering.” He will work over the weekend before putting the measure to vote, although he may be close to the 60 votes needed.

Medical marijuana supporters have already won local approval for medical use in 18 states and D.C. Voters in Colorado and Washington chose to legalize marijuana, although, the federal government currently lists marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it has no medically accepted use and high potential for abuse.


Terminally Ill Opt For Less Treatment When In Communication With Doctors

Posted on Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 at 1:43 pm by Life Matters Media

Cancer patients who talk with their physicians about how they want to die are less likely to opt for aggressive end of life treatments in the last two weeks of life, according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Instead, these patients end life more comfortably at home or in hospice care, and as a result spend much less on hospital care.

“Aggressive care at the end of life for individual patients isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just that most patients who recognize they’re dying don’t want to receive that kind of care,” said Dr. Jennifer Mack, lead author of “Associations Between End-of-Life Discussion Characteristics and Care Received Near Death: A Prospective Cohort Study.”

“We should at least consider having these discussions soon after diagnosis if we know that a patient has incurable cancer,” Mack, from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, told Reuters Health.

The researchers studied more than 1,200 patients with stage IV lung or colorectal cancer who survived at least one month from the time of diagnosis, but died during the 15-month study period. Using interviews of the patients and/or their caregivers and a comprehensive medical record review, the researchers determined if and when the patients had discussions with their doctors about end of life.

Researchers found that 88 percent had end of life discussions, but more than one-third of those took place less than a month before the patient died. Those patients who had end of life discussions documented in the medical record but did not recall them in the patient or surrogate interviews were more likely to have chemotherapy within the last 14 days of life, or acute intensive or hospital care within the last 30 days of life.

Patients who reported having the discussions with doctors were almost seven times more likely to end up in hospice than those who didn’t have those talks. Hospice focuses on comfort care and pain management for terminal patients, instead of treatment.

“A lot of patients don’t want (aggressive treatment), but they don’t recognize that they’re dying or that this is relevant for them,” said Dr. Camilla Zimmermann, head of the palliative care program at University Health Network in Toronto. She wasn’t involved in the study.

She told Reuters: “The earlier you discuss these things, the more options you have. If you wait too long, you end up having these discussions with someone you don’t know, that you just met, in an inpatient setting,” instead of with your primary doctor.

According to Mack, “If we start these conversations early, then patients have some time to process this information, to think about what’s important to them (and) to talk with their families about that.”

In 2010, Medicare paid $55 billion for doctor and hospital bills during the last two months of patients’ lives- more than the budget for the Department of Homeland Security, according to CBS News. Twenty to 30 percent of those medical expenses may have had no meaningful impact on the patients’ health.

Reuters is reporting data from the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, which found that 32 percent of total Medicare spending goes to caring for sick patients in their last two years of life.

National guidelines recommend patient-physician talks begin soon after a terminal cancer diagnosis. Researchers found that physicians initiated end of life discussions an average 33 days before death.


Feeding Tubes: Families Struggle With Decision

Posted on Saturday, November 24th, 2012 at 3:12 pm by Life Matters Media

Brown University, Joan Teno

Many families caring for seniors with advanced neurological disease face this dilemma: prolong their loved one’s life by artificial means via a feeding tube or stop feeding them altogether. Lisa Krieger’s new feature for Mercury News focuses on the billion-dollar feeding tube business and why some families regret their decision to opt for artificial nutrition.

One-third of nursing home residents suffering from dementia receive tube feedings, contributing to the $1.64 billion industry. However, some families and physicians insist the value of feeding tubes is overrated, since they provide little medical benefit and increase pain for those suffering from progressive neurological disease.

Source: mercurynews.com

“The number of nursing home residents with advanced dementia who get feeding tubes each year varies widely across states,” Krieger reports. The only comprehensive study on the matter found the average rate of use nationwide was 54 per 1,000 people.

Racial minorities are also more likely to opt for artificial tubes than whites. Life Matters Media previously reported that blacks are twice as likely than others to choose aggressive end of life treatments.

As medical costs continue to rise and the baby boomer population ages, views on artificial nutrition may be changing. “Decades after the tube achieved widespread use for people with irreversible dementia, some families are beginning to say no to them, as emerging research shows that artificial feeding prolongs, complicates and isolates dying,” Krieger writes.

For example, a 1999 study by Dr. Thomas Finucane of Johns Hopkins Medical Center found no evidence that feeding tubes prolong the lives of demented nursing home patients. They also didn’t prevent pneumonia or improve comfort.

Finucane’s analysis asserts: “We found no data to suggest that tube feeding improves any of these clinically important outcomes and some data to suggest that it does not… risks are substantial. The widespread practice of tube feeding should be carefully reconsidered…”

Most families, however, are accustomed to caring for their sick by feeding them, a reason why the decision to opt for or against artificial nutrition is especially emotional. “Food is how we comfort those we love; when all other forms of communication have vanished, feeding remains a final act of devotion,” Krieger writes.

Sometimes a terminally ill individual may not feel pain when a feeding tube is first inserted in the stomach. As the illness progresses and pain begins to get more intense, removing the tube becomes a moral debate. This quandary often comes as another surprise for families.

“It is amazing how long you can keep someone alive,” said Dr. Leslie Foote, medical director of Windsor Gardens Rehabilitation Center in California. “But we sure aren’t doing them any great favors.”

Despite some change in public opinion, families may not have the choice to reject feeding tubes. The fallout from the controversial 2005 Terri Schiavo case led the Catholic Church to order doctors at its hospitals to ignore patients’ advanced directives- even if they do not want artificial feeding. Catholic hospitals may mandate artificial nourishment.

In 2009, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the directive to more than 1,000 Catholic hospitals and nursing homes, as well as to all Catholic doctors.

“People with end stage dementia still possess human dignity. And that dignity must be respected,” said Vice- President of Corporate Ethics at Catholic Daughters of Charity Health System Gerald Coleman. Krieger insists that tube feeding constitutes ordinary care at Catholic hospitals.


‘The Quality of Life': End Of Life On stage

Posted on Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 at 5:34 pm by Life Matters Media

The Den Theatre’s adaptation of Jane Anderson’s play “The Quality of Life” addresses many complex and often unspoken concerns baby boomers face as they begin to consider the end of life. The play focuses on Dinah and Bill (Jennifer Joan Taylor, Stephen Spencer), a devout, evangelical and conservative married couple from Ohio. They visit their freethinking agnostic cousins, Jeannette and Neil, (Liz Zweifler, Ron Wells) after a forest fire destroys their California home.

Dinah and Bill recently lost a young-adult daughter, their only child, to an unspeakable crime, and their own relationship has been strained since. Neil is facing late-stage prostate cancer, and Jeannette is unable to imagine living her life without him.

Neil uses marijuana to dull his cancer pain, a practice Bill judges harshly. When Bill and Dinah learn of Neil’s plans to end his own life in the coming weeks, the couple’s visit to California is complicated even more.

The couples’ ideologies clash as they attempt to work through their different beliefs about religion, medical marijuana, assisted death, morality and mortality- all within feet of the audience. Audiences become so invested in the characters that tears flow, an experience the actors call cathartic.

Wells, Spencer, Zweifler and Taylor

Life Matters Media spoke with the cast about their experiences with the play.

Why is discussing the end of life taboo in America?

Spencer: I think it’s such a cultural thing. I have friends who are more like Neil and Jeannette who’ve had a death in their family. They read through the Tibetan Book of the Dead and chanted and their whole family was around. They made a beauty of death because they saw it as a passing. In America, death is taboo. A play like this opens up the discussion.

Wells: I think it has a lot to do with our Puritanical history, our religion. It seems to me that people elsewhere in the world, particularly in Europe, have a healthier view of life and death. A lot of it gets tied up in our beliefs and everyone wants to live. I think this play, at the heart of it all, is about “how do you say goodbye?”

Taylor: Because it hurts. We don’t like to talk about things that hurt us. I love being in a play that provokes. It’s been a dream come true to be part of a story that’s so important. I’ve met people who’ve lost their children and came to this play. But they left feeling relief, in a cathartic way.

Zweifler: I’ve been nervous about people coming to see it for that reason. But they seem to really like it.

How do you feel about laws such as Question 2, which was just voted down in Massachusetts? It would have allowed physicians to prescribe life-ending drugs to some willing terminally ill patients.

Zweifler: I’m open to it, but when someone gets to decide one’s fate, that’s worrisome. But I like the idea of when it’s your time, you get to decide. But the balancing act is when do you let people go? There are new medical technologies that can keep people alive.

Wells: I have no problems with the issue at all. But I understand how people could fear these types of laws.

Taylor: I was raised Catholic and was raised to believe that suicide is a sin, and that you go to hell if you do it. Some of that is stuck in me. I don’t like the idea of someone being able to end one’s life. I like the idea of comfort at the end of life. I would probably not vote for it, but you shouldn’t have to die in pain. Not when there are good drugs around.

Do you identify with your characters?

Taylor: I’m more like Dinah than I would have ever thought. I think of myself as this liberal person, but I have this little conservative side to myself. I never really thought of it until I played Dinah. I would say things that Dinah would say. I thought I was Jeannette.

Wells: Neil is the most personal role I’ve ever played. Neil is the man I want to be. I see a lot of myself in him.

Zweifler: I definitely have Jeannette characteristics but I’m not as hard on people as Jeannette is.

The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones recommends this adaption. “In a second-floor walk-up, you’ll find honest Chicago acting, deep thoughts, honest writing about societal change and compassion for the messiness of all our value systems, let alone the way we want to face our end,” he wrote in his three-star review.

The Chicago Theatre Review’s Rachel Parent has called the play “a strong note in a beautiful place.”

Tickets are available here