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*
A 90-year old man with a pancreatic mass, almost definitely pancreatic cancer, was admitted to a hospital.
Surgeon Jeffrey Parks does the initial surgery consult on this terminal case, and recommends hospice care.
The next evening, he’s shocked by the “astounding amount of medicine [that] had been practiced” during the day:
Consults had gone out to GI, oncology, and nephrology. The GI guy had ordered an MRCP and, based on some mild distal narrowing of the common bile duct, had scheduled the patient for a possible ERCP in the morning. A stat CT guided biopsy of the liver lesions had also been done. The oncologist had written a long note about palliative chemotherapy options and indicated he would contact the son about starting as soon as possible. The nephrologist had sent off a barrage of blood and urinary tests.
It’s often said that we spend the most money in the world on futile care, often with little benefit to the patient. The preceding account was that phenomenon in action, replicated thousands of times on a daily basis.
A microcosm of what’s wrong with American medicine indeed.
*This blog post was originally published at KevinMD.com*