10/16/17

Learn to Cope With Death as a Future Physician

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Prospective medical school students can use volunteer experiences to learn how to care compassionately for dying patients.

As a prospective medical student, remember to take the time to grieve.

By Kathleen Franco, M.D.,

Most prospective medical school students set out to become physicians because they want to heal the sick, often forgetting that patients, young and old, sometimes die.

Death is a very real – and natural – part of medicine that you will not only face but also will need to learn how to handle. Before you start medical school, consider how you might care compassionately for a dying patient and how you will cope with the loss.

Some physicians – although very few in my experience – look at death as defeat and cope by emotionally running away from dying patients. For example, in the inpatient setting, they may visit the patient less often or avoid contact altogether.

In the outpatient setting, they might recommend a longer time between visits or, rather than suggest a follow-up appointment, wait for the patient to request one. This coping strategy makes patients feel abandoned.

Other physicians – again, very few – cope by behaving callously or indifferently. Subconsciously, they may be trying to avoid emotional involvement, but their behavior leaves their patients and families feeling hurt and disappointed.

Most physicians find healthy strategies to support their dying patients. These same strategies help physicians keep themselves emotionally healthy, too.

As a future medical student, it’s vital that you prepare yourself to compassionately face death and dying and the complex emotions that follow. One way to do this is by volunteering in a hospice facility or nursing home and honing these six skills.

1. Be authentic: As a volunteer, introduce yourself and express your hope that someday you wish to become a physician. Let patients know you are there to learn more about their experiences.

Ask patients about how they grew up or what they were thinking about at your age. Ask about their work or career – a generally safe place emotionally – and where they have lived or about their family.

Be sure to make eye contact and watch your body language. You’ll use these skills when you’re a physician to develop trust and open communication with patients.

2. Listen with purpose: Practice your active listening skills so that on future visits you can ask patients more about previous conversations.

By bringing up something from a past visit, you will show that you remembered what they told you and that they matter to you as a person. Active listening is another skill you will use throughout your medical career.

3. Allow patients to talk about death: Everyone faces death differently; some people want to talk about it, while others prefer to reflect on their life and accomplishments.

Whether now as a volunteer or later as a future physician, let patients talk about death as they need to. Don’t shut down the conversation by saying, “Everything will be all right.” Instead, ask them to tell you more. Listen to all they have to say, whether it’s about their health, fears or fond memories.

4. Visit or connect consistently: A good physician builds rapport over time, and you can develop this skill through your volunteer position. During extended time between visits, call or drop the patient a note.

This is a good habit to develop so that when you are a physician, your patients – particularly those who are dying – will feel supported. At the end of each visit, thank the patient. You won’t know at the time if it will be your last opportunity to visit, so treasure each interaction.

5. Seek support: Myriad scholarly articles and books are available to help physicians – and all people – accept that death is an inevitable part of life and that grieving is normal and encouraged. For instance, attending funerals help some people grieve, while others seek solace from support groups or counseling.

Social workers also deal with death and dying regularly and can give you advice about how they cope and prevent burnout. Make the social work team part of your professional network. Their support and advice will help you cope as a physician, especially when you lose a patient who had a particular influence on you.

6. Allow yourself to grieve: Over the course of your relationships with patients who are dying, you will learn a great deal about your capacity to care for others. It will likely hurt when patients die.

Remember that it’s important to grieve, and keep in mind that everyone grieves differently. Give yourself the room to process your emotions and to discover the coping mechanism that’s right for you.

Over time, you will gain some insight about your ability to cope. Physicians often cope by speaking confidentially with colleagues and expressing sadness and other emotions in a journal. After omitting a patient’s protected health information, some physicians publish their writings to help themselves and others who are grieving.

Many medical schools also teach students to reflect about their emotions and write them down. Writing and seeing the words help the healing process.

As a future medical student, embrace the opportunity to get to know someone who is dying. It will allow you to reflect on how you may feel when a future patient dies and learn to create a meaningful bond with the people you touch now and in the future.

Complete Article HERE!

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10/9/17

De-Medicalizing Death

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By Jessica Nutik Zitter

There’s been an unexpected, and excellent, consequence to California’s new medical aid-in-dying law. For many terminally ill patients, immersion in the process of securing lethal drugs ultimately renders them unnecessary. How did this come about?

Passed by the California legislature in late 2015, the End of Life Option Act allows physicians to prescribe a lethal concoction of drugs to some patients with terminal illnesses who meet certain criteria. The law, commonly described as providing “medical aid in dying,” took effect on June 9, 2016. It stipulates only that the requesting patient be considered terminal (less than six months away from death), possess full decision-making capacity, and be physically able to self-administer the life-limiting drugs. Although the physician is obligated by law to inform the patient of alternative care options, such as psychological counseling or symptom management with palliative care services, there is no direct requirement that the physician arrange or provide them. In its barest form, the option can serve as a dispensary for life-ending medications.

California’s medical community was taken by surprise by the rapid passing of the law in late 2015. It came on the heels of the dramatic case of Brittany Maynard, a young woman with terminal brain cancer who elected to move from California to Oregon to access medical aid in dying under that state’s Death with Dignity Act. Hospital systems and physicians in California suddenly found themselves with an urgent need to rapidly formulate policies around this new right of patients. Some, such as the Catholic Health Systems, opted out on religious grounds. Others scrambled to put basic policies in place for patients who met inclusion criteria. And some institutions decided to put significant time and resources into supporting this new legal reality in the most comprehensive way possible.

One standout example is the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Health Centers. After literally thousands of hours of discussion, the working group determined that the intake process for patients requesting medical aid in dying should be conducted by trained psychotherapists (psychologists and clinical social workers) instead of physicians. Dr. Neil Wenger, director of the UCLA Health Ethics Center, led the effort to create processes and infrastructure to respond to this law. “We wanted to be able to offer a service that doctors tend to gloss over,” he said, when asked why they chose to lead with talk therapy. The intake consisted of an extensive set of questionnaires designed to assess all possible sources of distress. Any patient with physical or psychiatric needs was referred on to the appropriate services. But as the UCLA committee expected, most of what patients needed was to discuss their feelings about their approaching death and process their grief and sense of loss. This mirrors data from the entire state of California as well as Oregon, which suggest that the distress prompting patients to request these lethal medications primarily stems from their fear over losing control at the end of life. It is not, as many may think, due primarily to physical suffering.

The intake questions explored goals of care, quality of life, and patients’ emotions around their impending deaths: Were they ready? What scared them? What made them anxious? Did they feel their lives were complete? What did they feel makes life meaningful? What decrements in quality of life are too great? What haven’t they said and to whom? Anne Coscarelli, psychologist and founding director of the Simms/Mann–UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology, described the conversations that came from this intake process as revelatory and comforting for the patients. Several patients ultimately completed legacy projects, such as video or written messages and stories, for their children and grandchildren. This invitation to talk, which opens up a discussion that most of us are taught to avoid, turned out to be a game-changer.

Only a quarter of the patients ultimately went on to ingest the lethal drugs they came requesting. The actual data is more complex: Some who requested this service did not meet the basic requirements to receive it. Others died before they had a chance to ingest the medications. But the staff from UCLA reported case after case in which patients’ goals shifted from wanting to hasten their deaths to deciding to live out the remainder of their lives.

Ours is a culture that does not talk about death, even when it should be impossible to ignore. Despite the fact that 89 percent of people think that it is a doctor’s responsibility to discuss end-of-life care with their patients, in reality, only 17 percent of patients report having had such a conversation, according to a 2015 survey from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. As a doctor who practices both critical care and palliative care medicine, I have presided over thousands of deaths. Most of my patients have suffered with chronic illnesses for years: metastatic cancers, failing lungs, and progressive debilitation from dementia. And yet almost none of them have discussed their own death with their doctors, or even their families. Most have no idea that they are actually dying. In this culture that operates on a fantasy of immortality, with unrealistic promises made by television shows and advertisements, doctors see themselves as failures if they are unable to cure their patients. We physicians are trained to lead patients into battle after battle, into the next procedure or intervention, banking always on that magic pill or miracle cure.

This broad cultural unwillingness to acknowledge death results in a phenomenon I call the “End-of-Life Conveyor Belt,” where high-tech treatments are automatically attached to bodies as they progress through the stages of dying. As the baby boomers age and our treatment options blossom, more are being exposed to the suffering brought about by these protocols. The tremendous anxiety we see over loss of control is understandable. It is no wonder that people in many states have asked for, and finally won, the right to take back that control with a pill.

The effort by UCLA Health seems to be working. Placing highly trained psychologists and clinical social workers in the critical role of “first responder” to a patient’s request to hasten death has rendered many of these requests obsolete. In choosing this approach, UCLA is effectively “de-medicalizing” the experience of dying by prioritizing the need for deep reflection. In this way, the program provides patients with an option that doctors are not primarily trained for.

Patients requesting support to hasten their deaths are only a small subset of the population of the dying. They are in some ways canaries in a coal mine, their request for medical aid in dying is alerting us to the unmet needs of the wider population of dying patients. And what I am seeing is that our new legal responsibility to steward these patients responsibly through this rocky terrain will build practices and skills that will help all of those at the end of life.

Where goes California, thus goes the nation. California was the fourth state to legalize medical aid in dying and has since been followed by two more. And UCLA’s approach, with trained psychologists guiding patients through this tricky terrain, shows us the way. Let’s take advantage of this wave to take better care of all our seriously ill patients. And let’s make sure we give patients what they really need and hope that lethal drugs are always the last tool in the toolbox.

Complete Article HERE!

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09/21/17

Helping create a better death is a new doula concept

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By Gary Rotstein

On a sunny Sunday afternoon marked by perfect September weather, a gathering of nine women and one man wasn’t focused on talk about nature, recreation, hobbies or other aspects of enjoying life.

This group instead met for two hours in a downtown Greensburg office building to discuss the dying process and how to make it better.

The attendees at a free community training session about serving as end-of-life “doulas” heard Promise Hospice President Elizabeth Aungier, who hosted the session, talk about the goal of “a better death” for both terminally ill patients and their families. The former nursing home administrator has run her Greensburg hospice since 2010, but in navigating her own father’s death in 2015 she needed to lean on a friend for help.

She realized an additional layer supplementing a hospice team would be useful for families during a daunting, emotional process that is new to many of them.

“After my dad passed away I figured, if I needed extra support and I’m supposed to be an end-of-life expert, what about the individual that doesn’t have that knowledge? How can we help fill the gap between what the medical profession provides and maybe what a family needs?”

Ms. Aungier became intrigued by what she heard of end-of-life doulas and went through training herself last year in New York City from Doulagivers Inc. There she learned communications and technical skills related to helping people with their dying wishes and the closure they sought in relationships with others, as well as more procedural issues such as advance directive preparations and the type of funeral or memorial services they wanted.

Doulas are taught to sit, talk with and — especially — listen to terminally ill people in a non-judgmental way. If it goes right, they learn about their lives, build a rapport and help them face whatever fears they may have about the future. They can do so without the baggage of family members or the requirements of hospice staff who may be on a busy schedule to provide personal care and pain relief before moving on to the next client.

“The doula may spend extensive time helping an individual do a life review or legacy project or tangible account of history we can give to people they leave behind,” Ms. Aungier added, while emphasizing they are to leave medical issues to professionals such as a hospice nurse.

The end-of-life doula concept is new in southwestern Pennsylvania, she said, with New York and California among the still relatively rare places in the country where organizations like Doulagivers provide detailed training for a fee. Doulas are more commonly associated with births; while employed in only a small minority of those, they are nonetheless accepted as providing non-medical emotional and educational support for new mothers.

In either case — for births or deaths — doulas generally lack government certification or regulation and are paid by private resources rather than Medicare, Medicaid or other insurance.

Ms. Aungier sought to supplement her hospice business by starting PromiseCare Doulas in June, advertising $50 hourly services to support dying individuals through their final stages, but it has been slow to find clients. Ms. Aungier is undeterred, believing it’s an important and helpful concept. She has had most of her hospice staff trained in it to help them in their regular duties as aides, nurses and social workers.

“We’ve learned how to be more one-on-one now with patients in the dying process, understanding better how to walk them through that,” said Ginny Cabala-Carper, 28, a hospice aide for five years who was among staff in the spring going through weekend-long doula training sessions Ms. Aungier arranged for them.

“This will help us in our personal life, too,” Ms. Cabala-Carper said. “We’re all going to have loved ones die someday, and this helps me see what my parents and grandparents will need.”

Sunday’s session was the first of a series of free, two-hour educational presentations Ms. Aungier said she intends to provide for anyone from the community. They could be for those interested in being hospice volunteers, whether for her operation or others. They could also be for people simply interested in increasing knowledge to help relatives, friends and neighbors.

And others could treat it as the first step to someday hanging a shingle to offer service themselves as an end-of-life doula, though Ms. Aungier cautioned that they shouldn’t expect an immediate flood of calls.

“People don’t really seem to get it yet,” she said, having heard more commonly from people interested in getting help with bereavement after a death.

Arleen Hawk of Greensburg, a retired hospice social worker who was among the group Sunday, said it sounded to her like doulas could do more for families than the more limited aspects of what she did in her role while working.

“They can take it to the next step and help families feel they’re not missing anything,” she said.

Nisha Bowman, an intensive care unit social worker at UPMC Presbyterian with a pronounced interest in death and dying issues, attended to learn more about the doula concept as someone who may focus her career on end-of-life issues in the future.

“It just make sense,” said Ms. Bowman, 34, of Perry South. “If we have it for births, why not have it for deaths? … To know that there’s people who are trying to help people do death better is very heartening, because there’s still a lot of stigma to it.”

Complete Article HERE!

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09/15/17

Hiding who I am: The reality of end of life care for LGBT people

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Everyone should have the right to high-quality palliative care when they have a terminal illness, regardless of their condition, where they live, or their personal circumstances. It’s commonly assumed that everyone with a terminal illness gets the care they need, however one in four people who need palliative care in Northern Ireland are not currently accessing it.

 

by

Raising awareness of the issues

The problem can be particularly acute within the LGBT community, and last year, research commissioned by Marie Curie found that concerns around discrimination, stigma and invisibility can often cause LGBT people to access services late or not at all.

To explore these crucial issues, Marie Curie Northern Ireland held a policy seminar to raise awareness of the barriers faced by our LGBT community in accessing end of life care and what can be done to address them.

Held in Stormont, the home of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the event brought together a wide range of stakeholder groups, departmental officials, MLAs and health and social care representatives.

oan McEwan, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Marie Curie Northern Ireland spoke about the need for LGBT people to be able to access care, free from discrimination.

Championing compassion and understanding

Guests heard from Joan McEwan, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Marie Curie Northern Ireland, as well as John O’Doherty, Director of local LGBT organisation the Rainbow Project  . John discussed the needs of older LGBT people in health and social care, and said:

“Accessing care as an older person is something many of us do not consider we will need until it is upon us – particularly end of life care. This is a difficult time for everyone, but for many LGBT people, fears of homophobia and invisibility exacerbate an already distressing and difficult time.

“Ensuring services are accessible, safe and considerate of the specific needs of LGBT people means understanding their experiences, particularly the impact of homophobia, transphobia and marginalisation throughout their life.

“Marie Curie’s work in end of life care for LGBT people is imperative to ensuring that everyone living with terminal illness in our society can access care and support that is underpinned by compassion and understanding.”

Dr Richard O’Leary spoke about the experiences of he and his partner, Mervyn, when Mervyn was in hospital toward the end of his life.

“The assumption that we were not a couple”

Guests also heard from Dr Richard O’Leary, a retired university lecturer who was a full-time carer for his late partner Mervyn. Richard said:

“When we came to access end of life care as a same sex couple we were fearful of what we might encounter from service providers.

“My civil partner Mervyn was admitted to hospital many times and the assumption that we were not a couple was made at least once during every hospital stay. In the public ward in hospitals I was wary of showing affection to Mervyn because it was unclear whether the hospitals had a protocol to protect us if anyone objected to us being affectionate.

“In hospitals and hospices much of the emotional care of the dying is offloaded to the chaplaincy service. This can be problematic – with one chaplain telling me that they were ‘struggling with the issue’ of same sex relationships.

“Mervyn and I enjoyed 25 years of a committed, loving relationship until he died on 2 August 2013. After Mervyn’s death, there were people in my family and in my faith community who explicitly withheld from me the expression of condolence.

“Service providers should be aware of the disenfranchised grief and reduced social support that may be experienced by LGBT persons during bereavement. I’d like to thank Marie Curie for their pioneering research and leadership in the area of end of life care for LGBT people.”

Making good practice more widespread

The presentations made clear that there are pockets of good practice in end of life care provision for the LGBT community. Service providers and HSC professionals must now work together to take these examples and make them universal – to ensure LGBT people receive high-quality, person-centred care that acknowledges and supports them during terminal illness.

Dr Richard O’Leary, Melanie Legg, Joan McEwan, Mark H Durkan and John O’Doherty at the event on 7 September 2017.

Read our report,  ‘Hiding who I am: end of life care for LGBT people’  , which explores why LBGT people experience significant barriers to getting palliative care when they need it.

Complete Article HERE!

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09/11/17

Doctors want to give their cancer patients every chance. But are they pushing off hard talks too long?

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Biff Flanagan, an esophogeal cancer patient, stands with his wife Patricia at their home in Sa Diego, CA on Wednesday, August 30, 2017. Mr.Flanagan received an experimental immuotherapy cancer treatment for his cancer.

By Bob Tedeschi

A new generation of immune-boosting therapies has been hailed as nothing short of revolutionary, shrinking tumors and extending lives. When late-stage cancer patients run out of other options, some doctors are increasingly nudging them to give immunotherapy a try.

But that advice is now coming with unintended consequences. Doctors who counsel immunotherapy, experts say, are postponing conversations about palliative care and end-of-life wishes with their patients — sometimes, until it’s too late.

“In the oncology community, there’s this concept of ‘no one should die without a dose of immunotherapy,’” said Dr. Eric Roeland, an oncologist and palliative care specialist at University of California, San Diego. “And it’s almost in lieu of having discussions about advance-care planning, so they’re kicking the can down the street.”

Palliative care and oncology teams have long been wary of each another. For many oncologists, palliative care teams are the specialists to call in only when curative treatments have been exhausted. For many palliative care specialists, oncologists are the doctors who prescribe treatments without regard to quality-of-life considerations.

But the new collision between immunotherapy and palliative care experts comes at an inopportune moment for health care providers, who have in recent years promoted palliative care as a way to increase patient satisfaction while reducing costs associated with hospitalizations and emergency room visits.

Dr. Cardinale Smith, an oncologist and palliative care specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, said she has seen a handful of patients who tried immunotherapy treatments after failing chemotherapy, and who were later admitted to the hospital in poor condition. Almost all of them died there, without having been asked about where, and under what conditions, they might prefer to die.

“These conversations are not occurring because of the hope that this will be the miracle treatment,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, on the part of the oncologist, treatments like immunotherapy have become our new Hail Mary.”

Immunotherapies work for only around 15 to 20 percent of cancer patients who receive them.

They have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for Hodgkin lymphoma and certain cancers of the lung, skin, blood, kidney, bladder, and head and neck — but not for common cancers like prostates and most cancers of the colon and breast. A new type of immunotherapy, CAR-T, was approved earlier this week for leukemia.

But even for those cancers, oncologists and patients sometimes refuse to acknowledge clear signs that immunotherapies are failing, said Dr. Sandip Patel, a cancer specialist and immunotherapy researcher at the University of California, San Diego.

Patel said he now engages home-based palliative care specialists, who can provide supportive care while a patient’s health is relatively stable. “Then, at least when they transition to hospice, it’s not as much of a free fall out of the traditional health system, and if they’re one of the patients who respond to the therapy, great.”

He lamented the fact that patients who fail immunotherapy treatments spend more time in hospitals than with their families at home. “The flip side is, if I had a cancer with a 15 percent response rate, and if the benefit might be longer-term, I’d try it,” he said. “Who wouldn’t buy a ticket to a lottery of that importance?”

But not all patients have a clear idea of what that lottery ticket might cost them. Carrie Clemons’s father, Billy Clemons, who is 68 and is a former Texas state representative, last year stopped responding to chemotherapy for renal cell cancer that first struck him in 2002. His doctors recommended the immunotherapy Opdivo, which had recently been approved for his cancer.

At the time, he was symptom-free from his cancer, though scans showed it had spread to his lungs and some lymph nodes.

Two infusions of the drug, Clemons said, were followed by “eight months of hell,” during which her father became incontinent and had to use a wheelchair, lost his eyesight and most of his hearing and speech, and endured multiple weeks of intubation and care in the ICU. When his heart stopped beating, he needed to be resuscitated.

While immunotherapies trigger debilitating side effects much less frequently than chemotherapy, they can spur potentially life-threatening conditions, depending on the cancer type and the treatment approach. Fewer than 5 percent of patients overall face serious side effects, for instance, but more than one-third of melanoma patients who receive a combination of immunotherapy drugs can experience such conditions. The upside: Half of those melanoma patients will see their cancer shrink for at least two years.

Clemons’s doctors at Houston’s MD Anderson attributed the reaction to a runaway immune system that essentially attacked his central nervous system. To reverse it, he needed weeks of therapy to replace his plasma with that of donors, to clear away his blood’s overly active antibodies.

He slowly improved, though, to the point where only some slight vision impairment remains, and doctors recently declared his cancer in remission.

Although the family is thrilled at the outcome, Clemons said, they had little idea when they began that such side effects were possible, and doctors never engaged the palliative care team to either discuss side effects or help manage them.

She wouldn’t have known to ask about such care. “I always just equated palliative care with hospice,” she said.

Hospitals overall have made some headway in integrating oncology and palliative care specialists, with more oncologists referring patients to palliative specialists to help them ease side effects of treatments and achieve quality-of-life goals.But Roeland, the doctor at the University of California, and others say the integration is less smooth when it comes to cutting-edge cancer treatments.

Palliative care teams have not been able to keep abreast of the breakneck pace of cancer treatments, so they may not be offering up-to-date counsel to patients who ask about possibly life-changing therapies.

Meanwhile, most of the growth in palliative care medicine has happened among clinicians who work in hospitals, where they generally see only those who have done poorly on immunotherapies, for instance.

“They’re not seeing the super-responders,” Roeland said. “So their first reaction usually is, ‘Why would you do that?’”

Biff Flanagan, an esophogeal cancer patient, on a walk with his wife Patricia at their home in San Diego, CA on Wednesday, August 30, 2017. Mr.Flanagan received an experimental immuotherapy cancer treatment for his cancer.

Roeland understands more than most the seductive qualities of an eleventh-hour immunotherapy gambit. He had given up hope of curing Bernard “Biff” Flanagan, 78, of his esophageal cancer in late 2015, and referred Flanagan to hospice care to help him manage his extreme weight loss, fatigue, and the emotional distress he felt from not being able to swallow.

But Flanagan, who speaks with the gruff, seen-it-all humor one might expect from a career FBI agent in LA, wanted to keep seeking a cure.

Roeland said he knew that many hundreds of clinical trials were testing the therapies on other cancers, so he did some digging. A paper from a recent cancer conference showed that some people with squamous cell esophageal cancer responded to immunotherapy. He could arrange to get the drug through the Bristol Myers Squibb, for free.

He presented the idea to Flanagan and his wife, Patricia, with the caveats that it might not work, and could come with possibly significant side effects.

Flanagan jumped at the chance. Patricia, a former professional photographer, was less enthused.

“I ran into her later in the coffee shop,” Roeland said. “She looked at me like. ‘What the hell are we doing here? He doesn’t have a good quality of life.’ I’m feeling guilty now.”

Roughly six weeks into the treatment, Flanagan’s energy was returning, and he found himself at the fridge. “I grabbed a glass of OJ, knocked it down, swallowed it no problem,” he said. “And it was like a miracle. I had another one.”

Now Flanagan has no symptoms, and he experienced only the briefest side effect: a skin rash that abated with ointment. Patricia recently helped him dispose of the morphine and other medications the hospice team had given them.

“If he’d died in the hospital, I would’ve felt terrible,” she said. “If I were in his place at that point, I’d have tried to arrange to die at home at my own choosing, but Biff just didn’t have as strong feelings about that as I had.

“I had little hope that he was going to recover, but it’s just been amazing. He really is living the life he’s always lived.”

Roeland said that for the experience “is so immensely rewarding that it drives an oncology practice. It can be 1 in 100 that happens like that, and you say, well, is it worth it?”

Complete Article HERE!

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08/24/17

Medicare covers the cost of care-planning sessions

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In 2016, the first year health-care providers were allowed to bill for an end-of-life consultation, nearly 575,000 Medicare beneficiaries took part in the conversations, new federal data obtained by Kaiser Health News show.

By

The 90-year-old woman in the San Diego-area nursing home was quite clear, said Dr. Karl Steinberg. She didn’t want aggressive measures to prolong her life. If her heart stopped, she didn’t want CPR.

But when Steinberg, a palliative-care physician, relayed those wishes to the woman’s daughter, the younger woman would have none of it.

“She said, ‘I don’t agree with that. My mom is confused,’ ” Steinberg recalled. “I said, ‘Let’s talk about it.’ ”

Instead of arguing, Steinberg used an increasingly popular tool to resolve the impasse last month. He brought mother and daughter together for an advance care-planning session, an end-of-life consultation that’s now being paid for by Medicare.

In 2016, the first year health-care providers were allowed to bill for the service, nearly 575,000 Medicare beneficiaries took part in the conversations, new federal data obtained by Kaiser Health News shows.

Nearly 23,000 providers submitted about $93 million in charges, including more than $43 million covered by the federal program for seniors and the disabled.

Use was much higher than expected, nearly double the 300,000 people the American Medical Association projected would receive the service in the first year.

That’s good news to proponents of the sessions, which focus on understanding and documenting treatment preferences for people nearing the end of their lives. Patients, and often, their families, discuss with a doctor or other provider what kind of care they want if they’re unable to make decisions themselves.

“I think it’s great that half a million people talked with their doctors last year. That’s a good thing,” said Paul Malley, president of Aging with Dignity, a Florida nonprofit that promotes end-of-life discussions. “Physician practices are learning. My guess is that it will increase each year.”

Still, only a fraction of eligible Medicare providers — and patients — have used the benefit, which pays about $86 for the first 30-minute office visit and about $75 for additional sessions.

Nationwide, slightly more than 1 percent of more than 56 million Medicare beneficiaries who enrolled at the end of 2016 received advance-care planning talks, according to calculations by health-policy analysts at Duke University. But use varied widely among states, from 0.2 percent of Alaska Medicare recipients to 2.49 percent of those enrolled in the program in Hawaii.

“There’s tremendous variation by state. That’s the first thing that jumps out,” said Donald Taylor Jr., a Duke professor of public policy.

In part, that’s because many providers, especially primary-care doctors, aren’t aware that the Medicare reimbursement agreement, approved in 2015, has taken effect.

“Some physicians don’t know that this is a service,” said Barbie Hays, a Medicare coding and compliance strategist for the American Academy of Family Physicians. “They don’t know how to get paid for it. One of the struggles here is we’re trying to get this message out to our members.”

There also may be lingering controversy over the sessions, which were famously decried as “death panels” during the 2009 debate about the Affordable Care Act. Earlier this year, the issue resurfaced in Congress, where Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, introduced the Protecting Life Until Natural Death Act, which would halt Medicare reimbursement for advance-care planning appointments.

King said the move was financially motivated and not in the interest of Americans “who were promised life-sustaining care in their older years.”

Proponents like Steinberg, however, contend that informed decisions, not cost savings, are the point of the new policy.

“It’s really important to say the reason for this isn’t to save money, although that may be a side benefit, but it’s really about person-centered care,” he said. “It’s about taking the time when people are ill, or even when they’re not ill, to talk about what their values are. To talk about what constitutes an acceptable versus an unacceptable quality of life.”

That’s just the discussion that the San Diego nursing-home resident was able to have with her daughter, Steinberg said. The 90-year-old was able to say why she didn’t want CPR or to be intubated if she became seriously ill.

“I believe it brought the two of them closer,” Steinberg said. “Even though the daughter didn’t necessarily hear what she wanted to hear. It was like, ‘You may not agree with your mom, but she’s your mom, and if she doesn’t want somebody beating her chest or ramming a tube down her throat; that’s her decision.’ ”

Complete Article HERE!

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08/23/17

Hospice service helps care for geriatric pets

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Stacie Alves and Dr Julia Spade administer acupuncture and laser therapy to a dog with arthritis. Last Wishes has assisted more than 5,000 families with their pet’s care since November 2012. Earlier this year, the organization opened the first compassionate comfort care center for pets in Houston. The center features comfort rooms that are used for hospice and pain management consultations, therapeutic laser, acupuncture, and compassionate sedation-euthanasia.

By Vagney Bradley

People and their pets can build a strong bond together, and losing a pet can be difficult. When a pet becomes terminally ill, Last Wishes, Houston’s first pet hospice service, steps in to take care of a geriatric pet, from moment of diagnosis through death and aftercare.

Dr. Christie Cornelius is the owner and veterinarian of Last Wishes. She also co-owns Earthman Last Wishes, Texas’ first water-based cremation service for pets. Cornelius and her associate, Dr. Julia Spade, will become the first two veterinarians in the state of Texas to become certified in Veterinary Hospice and palliative care in October.

“I started imagining a better way to offer end of life services after a few years of general practice. I saw how difficult it was for pet owners to bring in their painful or otherwise ailing companions into an unfamiliar, sterile, noisy, scary environment for euthanasia,” Cornelius said.

“I started offering home services through a feline practice I was working for at the time and found it extremely rewarding to be able to provide a peaceful passing for a pet in their own environment, surrounded by loved ones. As the years went by, I convinced myself there was a real need and desire for this type of service in our community.”

In 2012, Cornelius branched out and started Last Wishes while working full time at another veterinary clinic.

Last Wishes has assisted more than 5,000 families with their pet’s care since November 2012. Earlier this year, the organization opened the first compassionate comfort care center for pets in Houston. The center features comfort rooms that are used for hospice and pain management consultations, therapeutic laser, acupuncture, and compassionate sedation-euthanasia.

Cornelius’ goal is to help educate the community about pet hospice, comfort care, pain management, and gentle water-based aftercare services for pets.

Dr Christie Cornelius and assistant Betty Rose Bryant perform an exam on a dog.

Some of the common conditions the organization works with includes, but are not limited to, cancer, heart disease, liver disease, osteoarthritis, organ failure, cardiovascular and neurological disease, and vestibular disease.

“Last Wishes is unique in that we want to make the most of the time that every pet has left with their family. Our doctors and staff don’t just focus on making euthanasia as comfortable as possible when it is ultimately needed,” Spade said. “Our expertise in multiple forms of hospice techniques allows us to consider what is truly beneficial for each case and help strengthen the bond between the pet and their family.”

The majority of services are done in the comfort of the family’s home and in the pet’s environment. Services at the center include consultations, acupuncture, laser, sedation-euthanasia, pet loss support groups, and aftercare. Last Wishes also provides pet loss support groups and continuing education.

“We have established a network of providers, such as our very own grief counselor, pet sitters, pet groomers, and volunteers set up to meet all of our patients and family’s needs when it comes to providing care for an ailing pet diagnosed with a terminal disease,” Cornelius said. “In addition, we sponsor twice monthly pet loss groups and host a private Facebook pet loss support page.”

Additionally, the organization assists disadvantaged families and individuals with their pet’s end of life care through the Last Wishes Fund, a non-profit organization funded by public donations.

Last Wishes provides provide a folder of pet loss/grief information for each family, a clay paw print memorial keepsake, and gentle transport of the pet for aftercare services from the client’s home.

“It is such an honor to be invited into the homes and lives of the families of Houston,” said Jennifer Rames, Last Wishes office manager. “While euthanasia is never easy, we feel honored to provide our services so that these precious furry family members can pass with dignity, in the place they feel safest and happiest, and surrounded by the people who love them the most.”

Cornelius and grief counselor, Marilyn Ladin, are developing a pet loss support program. The program offers in-person and online individual and group therapy.

“Our goal is to heal some long-broken hearts,” Cornelius said. “We also aspire to help other veterinarians and veterinary staff struggling with compassion fatigue, depression, and anxiety among other issues. Too many of our colleagues are causing their own deaths.”

This month Last Wishes plans to unveil of a public pet memorial gardens in Cypress. The garden will include four gardens and handmade stepping stones as a tribute to the pets the organization has helped. The memorial will also feature a special Rainbow Bridge. Families will have access to the garden on Sunday mornings as an opportunity to visit their pet in a peaceful and natural setting.

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