Duty Of Physicians To Inform Patients Of Hospice, Palliative Care

Duty Of Physicians To Inform Patients Of Hospice, Palliative Care

Posted on Saturday, June 1st, 2013 at 1:11 pm by Life Matters Media

Physicians have an ethical duty to inform their patients facing end of life about hospice and palliative care services, said Dr. Frederick Smith, director of clinical ethics at North Shore-LIJ Health System.

Smith

Dr. Frederick Smith

Smith’s presentation, part of the University of Chicago’s second annual Conference on Medicine and Religion, criticized the choices of many physicians who urge their patients to continue with more aggressive, painful treatments instead of more comfortable end of life care. Drawing inspiration from Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Smith suggested hospice and palliative care are compatible with religious teachings about death and pain. “A central function of religion is to provide meaning and consolation,” he said.

There are two things a failing patient needs to accomplish the “work of dying”: consciousness and time, Smith said. Dying allows patients time for reflection about life and opportunities for reconciliation. “Jesus wants his followers to seek reconciliation,” Smith said, noting the Lord’s Prayer.

“The Prophet Muhammad placed great value on forgiving the poor man’s debt,” Smith said. “The sacred books of the three great traditions, which originated with God’s call to Abraham, summon their adherence to a righteous life, comprised with loving adherence to God and honorable treatments to family, neighbors and even strangers. They teach that death is not the end.”

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. Palliative care is treatment that enhances comfort and improves the quality of life for patients. When deteriorating persons are not allowed time to begin the “work of dying,” they are more likely to leave feuds and conflicts unresolved, often carried on with the next generation. ”Feuds should not be taken to the grave,” Smith said.

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One-third of hospice patients are too frail to begin the “work of dying,” because they are too frail, Smith said. They are transferred to hospice too late, only after aggressive treatments fail. Medicare reimburses for hospice care for up to six months, with extensions for failing patients who continue beyond six months.

Findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association show hospice is often a last resort.

“Clinicians frequently ignore conversations about the likelihood of survival. If patients with life ending conditions truly knew the end was coming, would not it be better to take advantage of hospice?” Smith said.


Hospice Enrollment Policies Contribute To Underuse Of Care

Posted on Sunday, January 6th, 2013 at 1:59 pm by Life Matters Media

Hospice enrollment policies contribute to the underuse of hospice care in the U.S., according to new findings published in the journal Health Affairs. Findings from the first national survey on hospice enrollment policies found 78 percent had at least one policy restricting care access for high-cost patients.

Although almost all Americans live within close proximity to a hospice, more than half of patients eligible for the care die without it. There are more than 3,500 hospice providers in the U.S.

Some 600 hospices were studied, and according to researchers, “patients with potentially high-cost medical care needs, such as chemotherapy or total parenteral nutrition,” had a greater likelihood of facing the restrictions. Limited enrollment policies were identified in both for-profit and nonprofit hospices. These restrictive policies include not receiving chemotherapy, total parenteral nutrition, blood transfusions, an intrathecal catheter, radiation therapy, tube feedings or requiring a primary caregiver at home.

“It represents a barrier to people who want hospice care but can’t receive it,” said lead author Melissa Aldridge Carlson, a palliative care researcher at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

The aim of hospice care is to manage the pain and symptoms of the terminally ill so that their last days are spent with dignity. The care is not intended to treat the disease. 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. Medicare states that to elect the Medicare hospice benefit, an individual “waives the right to receive all other Medicare covered services for the terminal illness and related conditions.”

Hospices may restrict access because of current Medicare reimbursements, which account for more than 80 percent of hospice revenue. The reimbursements do not cover treatments related to a patient’s terminal illness, so a hospice must pay for it. As Carlson points out, the average per diem reimbursement is only $140 per day.

The researchers explain, “many patients with terminal illnesses can benefit from using oral chemotherapy for palliative rather than curative purposes; radiation; or blood transfusions for treatment- or disease-related low blood cell counts.” Any one of these treatments can cost more than $10,000 a month.

Open access policies allow enrollment of those who are not yet eligible for the Medicare hospice benefit, anticipating that they will remain with the hospice when they do become eligible. Patients receive the medical comfort and social support available through hospice while simultaneously retaining access to medical treatments for their disease.  Such patients may be covered by private insurance plans or pay for the care out of pocket.  However, initial reports indicate that the cost of caring for patients enrolled through open access policies is generally absorbed by the hospice provider.

The authors conclude that increasing the hospice per diem rate for patients who require complex palliative treatments and removing the Medicare hospice benefit limitation on concurrent care may enable more hospices to expand their enrollment to patients who need and want it.  Providing hospice services in a cost effective manner for those whose treatment plans include concurrent life-extending and palliative care is the subject of the a pilot project funded by section 3131 of the Affordable Care Act, although results for this pilot project are years from completion.


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.

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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.

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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.


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.