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Understanding Your Hospice And Palliative Care Options

Prepared Patient - Hospice Care: What Is It, Anyway? Seeking Shelter

The word hospice originated from the Latin hospitium, which means “to host or offer a place of shelter.” In 2009, an estimated 1.56 million patients, more than 40 percent of deaths, received hospice services in the United States. But many others who might have benefited from hospice care did not seek services, perhaps due to misconceptions, fears and the lack of information of patients, caregivers and even physicians.

“Hospice is a collection of services that are designed to support the patient and family through the course of a serious or terminal illness,” said Donald Schumacher, Psy.D, president and CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO). The aim of hospice is to provide physical and emotional care and comfort in the months, weeks and days before death.

It’s often hard for patients and their loved ones to acknowledge that the time to consider hospice care has come. People come to that realization differently and there are some that might never seem to face that the end of life is near. But through the ups and downs of emotions and physical status, hospice team members Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Prepared Patient Forum: What It Takes Blog*

Waiting For Medical News That Could Change Your Life

That old Tom Petty song, “The Waiting is the Hardest Part,” keeps running through my mind. Four of my friends are waiting to hear the results of medical tests taken last week.

  • Lucas has exhausted all of the standard cancer therapies for rectal cancer and is waiting to hear if he is a candidate for any experimental treatments.
  • Sam, who has lived through aggressive treatment for multiple cancers, is waiting to hear results from a test that will tell him if the fact that he is so very, very sick is due to one of them recurring.
  • Lucy just had major abdominal surgery and is waiting to hear the results of the pathology report that will determine whether or not her cancer can be treated at all.
  • Phil, who has been in remission from two different leukemias, had Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Prepared Patient Forum: What It Takes Blog*

Constipation: A Common Problem In End-Of-Life Care

Family physicians who care for terminally ill patients must manage a wide range of bothersome symptoms, including pain, fatigue, dyspnea, delirium, and constipation. According to a Cochrane for Clinicians article in the December 1st issue of American Family Physician, constipation affects up to half of all patients receiving palliative care and nearly 9 in 10 palliative care patients who use opioid medications for pain. Unfortunately, a Cochrane systematic review found limited evidence on the effectiveness of laxatives in these patients, as Dr. William Cayley Jr. comments:

“For patients with constipation, especially those with opioid-induced constipation, there is insufficient evidence to recommend one laxative over another. The choice of laxatives should be based on past patient experience, tolerability, and adverse effects. Methylnaltrexone is a newer agent that may be useful especially for patients with opioid-induced constipation that has not responded to standard laxatives, but there is limited evidence of potential adverse effects. Therefore, judicious use preceded by a discussion with patients about known risks and benefits is warranted.”

The Cochrane Library recently discussed this review in its Journal Club feature, which includes open access to the full text of the review, a podcast by the authors, discussion points, and a Powerpoint slide presentation of the review’s main findings.

Additional resources for physicians and patients on advanced directives, hospice care, and ethical issues are available in the AFP By Topic collection on End-of-Life Care.
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The above post was first published on the AFP Community Blog.

*This blog post was originally published at Common Sense Family Doctor*

Study Shows That Knowledge Of Imminent Death Is Beneficial For Cancer Patients

Providing information of imminent death to cancer patients does not increase pain or anxiety, but is associated with improved care and to increase the likelihood of fulfilling the principles of a good death, a Swedish study found.

Informed patients significantly more often had parenteral drugs prescribed as needed, died in his or her preferred place, and had an informed family who were offered bereavement support. There was no difference between informed and uninformed patients in control of pain, anxiety, nausea, and respiratory tract secretions, although there was a difference in management of confusion. Results appeared in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Since 2000, there has been an increasing focus on palliative care in Sweden, the study authors wrote. In 2001, the Swedish Government identified breakpoints for Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Hospitalist*

End-Of-Life Care Costs: Does Your Doctor Know When You’re Going To Die?

One interesting comment I have seen come up over and over is the idea that end-of-life costs are the thing that is spiralling out of control and that if we could somehow find a way to curb the costs of futile care, then that would somehow solve the health care inflation crisis. Andrew Sullivan endorsed such an idea the other day, a “Modest Proposal,” which is not nearly as radical or amusing as Swift’s. And indeed, there is a modicum of sense in the idea.

Estimates are that spending in the last six months of a person’s life account for 30-50% of their overall health care costs, and that the spending in the last year of a person’s life accounts for 25% of overall medicare spending. So — simple solution, right? cut down on the futile care, and we’re good to go.

Only problem — as a doctor, I sometimes have a hard time telling when someone is in their last DAY of life, let alone last year. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Movin' Meat*

Latest Interviews

How To Make Inpatient Medical Practice Fun Again: Try Locum Tenens Work

It s no secret that most physicians are unhappy with the way things are going in healthcare. Surveys report high levels of job dissatisfaction burn out and even suicide. In fact some believe that up to a third of the US physician work force is planning to leave the profession…

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Caring For Winter Olympians In Sochi: An Interview With Team USA’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gloria Beim

I am a huge fan of the winter Olympics partly because I grew up in Canada where most kids can ski and skate before they can run and partly because I used to participate in Downhill ski racing. Now that I m a rehab physician with a reconstructed knee I…

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Latest Cartoon

Richmond, VA – In an effort to simplify inpatient medical billing, one area hospitalist group has determined that “altered mental status” (ICD-9 780.97) is the most efficient code for use in any patient work up.

“When you enter a hospital, you’re bound to have some kind of mental status change,” said Dr. Fishbinder, co-partner of Area Hospitalists, PLLC. “Whether it’s confusion about where your room is located in relationship to the visitor’s parking structure, frustration with being woken up every hour or two to check your vital signs, or just plain old fatigue from being sick, you are not thinking as clearly as before you were admitted. And that’s all the justification we need to order anything from drug and toxin screens, to blood cultures, brain MRIs, tagged red blood cell nuclear scans, or cardiac Holter monitoring. There really is no limit to what we can pursue with our tests.”

Common causes of mental status changes in the elderly include medicine-induced cognitive side effects, disorientation due to disruption in daily routines, age-related memory impairment, and urinary tract infections.

“The urinalysis is not a very exciting medical test,” stated Dr. Fishbinder. “It doesn’t matter that it’s cheap, fast, and most likely to provide an explanation for strange behavior in hospitalized patients. It’s really not as elegant as the testing involved in a chronic anemia or metabolic encephalopathy work up. I keep it in my back pocket in case all other tests are negative, including brain MRIs and PET scans.”

Nursing staff at Richmond Medical Hospital report that efforts to inform hospitalists about foul smelling urine have generally fallen on deaf ears. “I have tried to tell the hospitalists about cloudy or bloody urine that I see in patients who are undergoing extensive work ups for mental status changes,” reports nurse Sandy Anderson. “But they insist that ‘all urine smells bad’ and it’s really more of a red herring.”

Another nurse reports that delay in diagnosing urinary tract infections (while patients are scheduled for brain MRIs, nuclear scans, and biopsies) can lead to worsening symptoms which accelerate and expand testing. “Some of my patients are transferred to the ICU during the altered mental status work up,” states nurse Anita Misra. “The doctors seem to be very excited about the additional technology available to them in the intensive care setting. Between the central line placement, arterial blood gasses, and vast array of IV fluid and medication options, urosepsis is really an excellent entré into a whole new level of care.”

“As far as medicine-induced mental status changes are concerned,” added Dr. Fishbinder, “We’ve never seen a single case in the past 10 years. Today’s patients are incredibly resilient and can tolerate mixes of opioids, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, and benzodiazepines without any difficulty. We know this because most patients have been prescribed these cocktails and have been taking them for years.”

Patient family members have expressed gratitude for Dr. Fishbinder’s diagnostic process, and report that they are very pleased that he is doing everything in his power to “get to the bottom” of why their loved one isn’t as sharp as they used to be.

“I thought my mom was acting strange ever since she started taking stronger pain medicine for her arthritis,” says Nelly Hurtong, the daughter of one of Dr. Fishbinder’s inpatients. “But now I see that there are deeper reasons for her ‘altered mental status’ thanks to the brain MRI that showed some mild generalized atrophy.”

Hospital administrators praise Dr. Fishbinder as one of their top physicians. “He will do whatever it takes to figure out the true cause of patients’ cognitive impairments.” Says CEO, Daniel Griffiths. “And not only is that good medicine, it is great for our Press Ganey scores and our bottom line.”

As for the nursing staff, Griffiths offered a less glowing review. “It’s unfortunate that our nurses seem preoccupied with urine testing and medication reconciliation. I think it might be time for us to mandate further training to help them appreciate more of the medical nuances inherent in quality patient care.”

Dr. Fishbinder is in the process of creating a half-day seminar on ‘altered mental status in the inpatient setting,’ offering CME credits to physicians who enroll. Richmond Medical Hospital intends to sponsor Dr. Fishbinder’s course, and franchise it to other hospitals in the state, and ultimately nationally.

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Click here for a musical take on over-testing.

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Latest Book Reviews

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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Unaccountable: A Book About The Underbelly Of Hospital Care

I met Dr. Marty Makary over lunch at Founding Farmers restaurant in DC about three years ago. We had an animated conversation about hospital safety the potential contribution of checklists to reducing medical errors and his upcoming book about the need for more transparency in the healthcare system. Marty was…

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