Diane Meier: Palliative Care Improves Quality Of Life, Reduces Medical Spending

Diane Meier: Palliative Care Improves Quality Of Life, Reduces Medical Spending

Posted on Thursday, December 5th, 2013 at 5:21 pm by lifemediamatters

Half of older Americans visit emergency departments in their last month of life; 75 percent in last six months of life 

Palliative medicine helps improve quality of life and reduces unnecessary spending on emergency care for the chronically ill, said Dr. Diane Meier, director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care and a professor of medical ethics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Meier was the keynote speaker for “Palliative Care: A Major Paradigm for Care Coordination,” a conference presented by the Illinois Hospital Association in Naperville Thursday.

Mr. and Mrs. B

Mr. and Mrs. B, Courtesy IHA

Meier opened her lecture with the true story of an elderly couple struggling without palliative support:

Mr. B is an 88-year-old man suffering mild dementia and admitted to the hospital via the emergency department for management of back pain due to spinal stenosis and arthritis. His pain is an 8 on a scale of 10 upon admissionhe receives 5 grams of acetaminophen (Tylenol) each day. He has been admitted three times in two months for pain, weight loss, falls and altered mental status due to constipation. His 83-year-old wife is overwhelmed.

“He hates being in the hospital, but what could I do? The pain was terrible and I couldn’t reach the doctor. I couldn’t even move him myself, so I called the ambulance. It was the only thing I could do,” Mrs. B told Meier.

Meier pointed out to an audience of palliative care nurses and other medical professionals that among Medicare enrollees in the top spending quintile, nearly half have chronic conditions and functional limitations, just like Mr. B. Most of the costliest 5 percent of Medicare enrollees (61 percent) suffer from similar conditions. Nationally, spending on dementia-related services totaled nearly $215 billion in 2010.

“The emergency department has become the modern death ritual in the U.S.,” Meier added, because half of older Americans visit the emergency department in their last month of life, and 75 percent do so in their last six months.

According to Meier, a palliative care strategy with geriatric support could have helped Mr. and Mrs. B manage symptoms more adequately, and it could even have helped them avoid some unnecessary hospitalizations. “What we need to do is get out of our taxonomy silos, specialty driven silos,” Meier said. “Because of the concentration of risk and spending, palliative care principles and practices are central to improving quality and reducing cost.” The costs of Mr. B’s four most recent hospital visits totaled several hundred thousand dollars. But the Bs did not do anything wrong, Meier said, because the medical system encouraged their situation. What else could they do?

Meier suggested more home and community-based services to help reduce the number of seniors who find themselves in situations like the the couple– lacking an able-bodied caregiver and without an easily accessible medical provider. “Staying home is concordant with people’s goals, she said. “Based on 25 state reports, costs of home and community-based long term care services are less than one-third the cost of nursing home care.” For example, in a study published in the journal Health Affairs, researchers determined that simply having meals delivered to a senior’s home significantly reduced the need for a nursing home.

As HealthDay News reported: “If all 48 contiguous states increased by 1 percent the number of elderly who got meals delivered to their homes, it would prevent 1,722 people on Medicaid from needing nursing home care.” Still, the U.S. lags behind every other industrialized nation when it comes to the ratio of social to health service expenditures.

Meier Graph

Hope Brown, a nurse with the Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, IL, said she appreciated Meier’s attention to the costs of care and the need for social support. “It happens every day, situations like the Bs. We definitely need to get people into social services earlier, even meal delivery,” she added.

Overall, Meier urged medical professionals to “treat the person, not the disease.” Since most patients prefer to live at home and remain independent, (76 percent rank “independence” as most important, followed by pain and symptom relief, and staying alive last) palliative medicine should reflect those wishes.

Diane Meier, Courtesy WikiMedia Commons

Diane Meier, Courtesy WikiMedia Commons

View “Palliative Care in the Mainstream: Stepping Up to the Plate”


A Sneak Peek Of “Consider The Conversation 2″

Posted on Sunday, August 4th, 2013 at 7:01 pm by lifemediamatters

Patients lose opportunities to prepare for death and say their goodbyes when doctors withhold the harsh truth about their serious conditions, says palliative care expert Diane Meier in a clip from the upcoming documentary, “Consider the Conversation 2: A Documentary About Unintended Consequences.” Produced by longtime friends Terry Kaldhusdal, a fourth grade teacher and filmmaker, and Michael Bernhagen, a hospice advocate, the film aims to increase understanding and generate discussions about the many issues surrounding end of life care.

“Our failure to name reality to patients and families, while it is emotionally understandable because it is painful for us as clinicians and it is painful to observe patients and families coming to terms with reality, the costs are enormous,” says Meier, the director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. Just as those on the hijacked airplanes on 9/11 called their loved ones to say goodbye, so should those facing painful, life-threatening illnesses. “It is a universal impulse,” Meier says. When physicians neglect to inform patients of their declining health they rob them of their final moments to closure.

The film will explain how medical technology has actually contributed to poorer, less comfortable deaths for many patients. Because many physicians do not know when to stop aggressive, often unnecessary treatments and because family members often urge continued treatments, the sick and dying often die painfully and not how they wanted. Although an overwhelming majority of Americans say they want to die at home, some 90 percent, less than 50 percent actually do.

Unfortunately, the film has not been completed– and may never be widely released– as more funding is needed for such a taboo film. Bernhagen and Kaldhusdal were recently turned down for a $20,000 development grant from the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Fund– their 21st rejection. Their first film “Consider the Conversation: A Documentary on a Taboo Subject” has been presented more than 400 times on PBS stations across the nation and won numerous awards.

The Chicago End-of-Life Care Coalition, a proud sponsor of both films, provided Life Matters Media the preview clip.


Palliative Medicine, Hospice Care?

Posted on Tuesday, December 4th, 2012 at 7:50 pm by Life Matters Media

Despite its growing popularity in hospitals, most Americans remain unaware of the comfort and benefits palliative care can provide some terminally ill patients.

“There is a clear need to inform consumers about palliative care and provide consumers with a definition of palliative care,” researchers commissioned by the Center to Advance Palliative Care advise. According to Public Opinion Research on Palliative Care, seventy percent of the general population doesn’t know anything about palliative care, and 14 percent were “somewhat knowledgeable.”

The researchers also found that it is difficult to inform physicians about palliative care, because they often wrongly equate it with hospice or end of life care.

Public Opinion Strategies

Palliative care becoming more popular

Palliative care is treatment that enhances comfort and improves the quality of life for patients in life’s last phase. No therapy is excluded from consideration, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO).

Palliative care is becoming increasingly widespread. There are more than 1,600 hospitals that have palliative care programs in the U.S., according to Dr. Diane Meier, director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Some 85 percent of large hospitals have a palliative care team. Sixty-seven percent of small hospitals have programs.

Dr. William H. Frist, a heart transplant surgeon and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader, recommends palliative care. ”[A] brand new field in medicine is making chronic, agonizing, and even terminal illnesses much more manageable… palliative care has emerged as the best solution for those facing serious, painful diseases, and introduces the very real possibility… that we can now live with these diseases for a long time,” he wrote recently for The Week.

Public Opinion Strategies

Palliative care also costs much less than aggressive end of life regimens. Patients who receive palliative care services cost hospitals between $1,700 and $5,000 less per admission, according to findings published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Hospice care remains overlooked

Hospice care is different from palliative care; its aim is to manage symptoms so that a person’s last days are spent with dignity and quality. The care is not intended to treat the disease but the person, according to the American Cancer Society.

Hospice is most often used when curative treatment is no longer effective, and a terminal patient is expected to live about six months or less.

“Many people believe that hospice is only for people who have cancer. This may be due to the fact that many of the patients cared for in the early days of hospice were cancer patients,” Becky Hillier, public relations director for Rocky Mountain Hospice, wrote for the Montana Standard. Less than 25 percent of hospice patients admitted to the hospice are cancer patients.

The NHPCO reports that 36 percent of hospice patients die or are discharged within seven days of treatment. Many terminally ill suffer more than they need to because they wait to enroll in a hospice program.

“We continue to see more dying Americans opting for hospice care at the end of their lives, yet far too many receive care for a week or less,” said the NCPCO’s J. Donald Schumacher. “We need to reach patients earlier in the course of their illness to ensure they receive the full benefits that hospice and palliative care can offer.”

One reason the terminally ill wait for hospice, he said, is due to the misconception that hospice means giving up.