Background: A multilevel quality improvement program was implemented at an urban community hospital, serving a racially and ethnically pluralistic patient population, to increase participation in advance care planning (ACP).
Measures: Number of eligible patients who completed an ACP form.
Intervention: Projects were implemented over the course of two years that targeted patients, health care providers, the organization, and the community.
Outcomes: The intervention resulted in increased completion of four unique ACP forms. Completion of the Living Will increased by 60%, Health Care Proxy increased by 9%, Medical Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment increased by 5%, and Do-Not-Resuscitate/Do-Not-Intubate orders increased by 3%.
Conclusion: Multilevel interventions can increase ACP participation in a racially and ethnically pluralistic patient population.
Context: Evidence-based resource allocation is receiving increasing attention as we strive for equity, transparency, and cost-effectiveness across health care. In the context of finite resources, which of our patients with terminal illness should be prioritized for urgent palliative care?
Objectives: To develop the scoring system for the novel Responding to Urgency of Need in Palliative Care triage tool.
Methods: Online international discrete choice experiment involving palliative care clinicians to establish the relative importance of seven key attributes of palliative care triage identified during an earlier qualitative study.
Results: Participants (n = 772) were mainly female (79.9%) with a decade of clinical experience. All attributes contributed significantly (all P-values < 0.001) and independently to clinician assessment of urgency. This study found physical suffering (coefficient 3.45; 95% confidence interval: 3.24 to 3.66) was the most important determinant of urgency, followed by imminent dying (coefficient 1.56; 1.43 to 1.69), psychological suffering (coefficient 1.49; 1.37 to 1.60), caregiver distress (coefficient 1.47; 1.35 to 1.59), discrepancy between care needs and care arrangements (coefficient 1.14; 1.02 to 1.26), mismatch between current and desired site of care (coefficient 0.94; 0.85 to 1.03), and unmet communication needs (coefficient 0.84; 0.76 to 0.92).
Conclusion: Palliative care triage, which is complex and contextual, has been made more transparent through this discrete choice experiment. The Responding to Urgency of Need in Palliative Care triage tool provides an important step toward evidence-based assessment of priority for palliative care. Further research is underway to determine the validity of the tool in clinical practice and its impact on patient and caregiver outcomes.
Context: Clinicians deciding whether to refer a patient or family to specialty palliative care report facing high levels of uncertainty. Most research on medical uncertainty has focused on prognostic uncertainty. As part of a pediatric palliative referral intervention for oncology teams we explored how uncertainty might influence palliative care referrals.
Objectives: To describe distinct meanings of the term “uncertainty” that emerged during the qualitative evaluation of the development and implementation of an intervention to help oncologists overcome barriers to palliative care referrals.
Methods: We conducted a phenomenological qualitative analysis of “uncertainty” as experienced and described by interdisciplinary pediatric oncology team members in discussions, group activities and semistructured interviews regarding the introduction of palliative care.
Results: We found that clinicians caring for patients with advanced cancer confront seven broad categories of uncertainty: prognostic, informational, individual, communication, relational, collegial, and inter-institutional. Each of these kinds of uncertainty can contribute to delays in referring patients to palliative care.
Conclusion: Various types of uncertainty arise in the care of pediatric patients with advanced cancer. To manage these forms of uncertainty, providers need to develop strategies and techniques to handle professionally challenging situations, communicate bad news, manage difficult interactions with families and colleagues, and collaborate with other organizations.
Context: Researchers, hospices, and government agencies administer standardized questionnaires to caregivers for assessing end-of-life care quality. Caregiving experiences may influence end-of-life care quality reports, which have implications for caregiver outcomes, and are a clinical and policy priority.
Objectives: This study aims to determine whether and how caregivers' end-of-life care assessments depend on their burden and benefit perceptions.
Methods: This study analyzes data from 391 caregivers in the 2011 National Study of Caregiving and their Medicare beneficiary care recipients from the 2011–2016 National Health and Aging Trends Study. Caregivers assessed five end-of-life care aspects for decedents. Logistic regression was used and predicted probabilities of caregivers positively or negatively assessing end-of-life care based on their burden and benefit experiences calculated. Analyses adjusted for caregiver and care recipient demographic and health characteristics.
Results: No or minimal caregiving burden is associated with =0.70 probability of caregivers reporting they were always informed about the recipient's condition and that the dying person's care needs were always met, regardless of perceived benefits. High perceived caregiving benefit is associated with =0.80 probability of giving such reports, even when perceiving high burden.
Conclusion: Caregiver burden and benefit operate alongside one another regarding two end-of-life care evaluations, even when years elapse between caregiver experience reports and care recipient death. This suggests that caregiver interventions reducing burden and bolstering benefits may have a positive and lasting impact on end-of-life care assessments.
Context: Patients with end-stage renal disease undergoing dialysis experience multiple concurrent symptoms. These symptoms cluster together and have negative impacts on patient outcomes. However, information on changes in symptom clusters over time is limited.
Objectives: This longitudinal study examined the stability of symptom clusters and their impacts on health-related quality of life and functional status over a period of one year.
Methods: Eligibility criteria were patients diagnosed with end-stage renal disease; had received dialysis consecutively for at least three months; and had given written informed consent. Dialysis Symptom Index, Kidney Disease Quality of Life 36, and Karnofsky Performance Status Scale were used to evaluate the impacts of symptom clusters and outcomes. Exploratory factor analyses and multiple regression analyses were used to determine symptom clusters and their associations with patient outcomes.
Results: Among the 354 recruited patients, 271 completed the 12-month assessment. Four symptom clusters were identified across the three assessments, namely, uremic, gastrointestinal, skin, and emotional. Within each cluster, the specific symptoms were varied. The uremic symptom cluster accounted for the largest amount of variability. Across the three assessments, a higher uremic cluster factor score was associated with poorer physical well-being, whereas a higher emotional cluster factor score was consistently associated with poorer mental well-being.
Conclusion: Symptoms in patients on dialysis clustered in relatively stable patterns. The four symptom clusters identified had consistent negative effects on various aspects of patients' well-being. Our findings suggest the need for ongoing symptom assessment and early recognition of symptoms that may contribute to adverse patient outcomes.
Context: High-quality advance care planning (ACP) discussions are important to ensure patient receipt of goal-concordant care; however, there is no existing tool for assessing ACP communication quality.
Objectives: The objective of this study was to develop and validate a novel instrument that can be used to assess ACP communication skills of clinicians and trainees.
Methods: We developed a 20-item ACP Communication Assessment Tool (ACP-CAT) plus two summative items. Randomized rater pairs assessed residents' performances in video-recorded standardized patient encounters before and after an ACP training program using the ACP-CAT. We tested the tool for its 1) discriminating ability, 2) interrater reliability, 3) concurrent validity, 4) feasibility, and 5) raters' satisfaction.
Results: Fifty-eight pre/post-training video recordings from 29 first-year internal medicine residents at Mount Sinai Hospital were evaluated. ACP-CAT reliably discriminated performance before and after training (median score 6 vs. 11, P < 0.001). For both pre/post-training encounters, interrater reliability was high for ACP-CAT total scores (intraclass correlation coefficient or ICC = 0.83 and 0.82) and the summative items Overall impression of ACP communication skills (ICC = 0.73 and 0.80) and Overall ability to respond to emotion (ICC = 0.83 and 0.82). Concurrent validity was shown by the strong correlation between ACP-CAT total score and both summative items. Raters spent an average of 4.8 minutes to complete the ACP-CAT, found it feasible, and were satisfied with its use.
Conclusion: ACP-CAT provides a validated measure of ACP communication quality for assessing video-recorded encounters and can be further studied for its applicability with clinicians in different clinical contexts.
The practice of medically assisted dying has long been contentious, and the question of what to call it has become increasingly contentious as well. Particularly among U.S. proponents of legalizing the practice, there has been a growing push away from calling it “physician-assisted suicide,” with assertions that medically assisted dying is fundamentally different from suicide. Digging deeper into this claim about difference leads to an examination of the difference between two kinds of suffering—suffering from physical conditions and suffering from psychological conditions—and therefore leads also toward an examination of whether requests for medical assistance in dying by those suffering from psychological conditions and those suffering from physical conditions should be painted with the same brush .
In this article, I aim both to illuminate some of the considerations that ought to be included in discussions related to medically assisted dying and to shed light on what the indirect effects of such discussions can be. I consider some of the reasons commonly given for holding that suicide and medically assisted dying differ fundamentally and then whether the conclusion that medically assisted dying should not be called “suicide” follows from the premises. I ask what else might justify the conclusion that the two acts ought to be called by different names, and I examine possible justifications for accepting this premise, as well as what justifications might exist for emphasizing how the acts are alike. Finally, I argue that we should be cautious before concluding that medically assisted dying should not be called “suicide.” We need more evidence either that the two acts are fundamentally different or that emphasizing differences between them is not likely to do more harm than good .
Ischaemic heart disease (IHD), in particular acute coronary syndrome (ACS), comprising ST-elevation myocardial infarction, non-ST-elevation myocardial infarction and unstable angina, is the leading cause of death worldwide. Age is a major predictor of adverse outcome following ACS. COVID-19 infection seems to escalate the risk in older patients with heart disease. Increasing odds of in-hospital death is associated with older age following COVID-19 infection. Importantly, it seems older patients with comorbidities such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), in particular IHD, diabetes and hypertension, are at the highest risk of mortality following COVID-19 infection. The evidence is sparse on the optimal care of older patients with ACS with lack of robust randomised controlled trials. In this setting, with the serious threat imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic in the context of rapidly evolving knowledge with much unknown, it is important to weigh the risks and benefits of treatment strategies offered to older patients. In cases where risks outweigh the benefits, it might not be an unreasonable option to treat such patients with a conservative or a palliative approach. Further evidence to elucidate whether invasive management is beneficial in older patients with ACS is required out-with the COVID-19 pandemic. Though it is hoped that the actual acute phase of COVID-19 infection will be short lived, it is vital that important clinical research is continued, given the long-term benefits of ongoing clinical research for patients with long-term conditions, including CVD. This review aimed to evaluate the challenges and the management strategies in the care of older patients presenting with ACS in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 28, 2020, the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) opened investigations into recently released critical care crisis triage protocols. Disability rights advocates are urging Congress to prohibit crisis triage based on “anticipated or demonstrated resource-intensity needs, the relative survival probabilities of patients deemed likely to benefit from medical treatment, and assessments of pre- or post-treatment quality of life.”
Many critically ill patients with COVID-19 need specialty level palliative care to manage symptoms, conduct goals of care conversations, and facilitate medical decision making in ethically and emotionally charged situations. During the apex of the COVID-19 crisis in New York, the Adult Palliative Care Service at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC)/NewYork-Presbyterian (NYP) received a 7-fold increase in consultation requests. This unprecedented increase in demand outpaced the palliative care team's ability to respond. We describe the rapid development and implementation of a scalable virtual consultation model staffed by out-of-state palliative care specialist volunteers.
There is a concern that as a result of COVID-19 there will be a shortage of ventilators for patients requiring respiratory support. This concern has resulted in significant debate about whether it is appropriate to withdraw ventilation from one patient in order to provide it to another patient who may benefit more. The current advice available to doctors appears to be inconsistent, with some suggesting withdrawal of treatment is more serious than withholding, while others suggest that this distinction should not be made. We argue that there is no ethically relevant difference between withdrawing and withholding treatment and that suggesting otherwise may have problematic consequences. If doctors are discouraged from withdrawing treatment, concern about a future shortage may make them reluctant to provide ventilation to patients who are unlikely to have a successful outcome. This may result in underutilisation of available resources. A national policy is urgently required to provide doctors with guidance about how patients should be prioritised to ensure the maximum benefit is derived from limited resources.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its sequelae have created scenarios of scarce medical resources, leading to the prospect that healthcare systems have faced or will face difficult decisions about triage, allocation and reallocation. These decisions should be guided by ethical principles and values, should not be made before crisis standards have been declared by authorities, and, in most cases, will not be made by bedside clinicians. Do not attempt resuscitation (DNAR) and withholding and withdrawing decisions should be made according to standard determination of medical appropriateness and futility, but there are unique considerations during a pandemic. Transparent and clear communication is crucial, coupled with dedication to provide the best possible care to patients, including palliative care. As medical knowledge about COVID-19 grows, more will be known about prognostic factors that can guide these difficult decisions.
Hospital palliative care is an essential part of the COVID-19 response but data are lacking. We identified symptom burden, management, response to treatment, and outcomes for a case series of 101 in-patients with confirmed COVID-19 referred to hospital palliative care. Patients (64 male, median [IQR] age 82 [72-89] years, Elixhauser Comorbidity Index 6 [2-10], Australian-modified Karnofsky Performance Status 20 [10-20]), were most frequently referred for end of life care or symptom control. Median [IQR] days from hospital admission to referral was 4 [1-12] days. Most prevalent symptoms (n) were breathlessness (67), agitation (43), drowsiness (36), pain (23) and delirium (24). Fifty-eight patients were prescribed a subcutaneous infusion. Frequently used medicines (median-maximum dose/24h) were opioids (morphine, 10-30mg; fentanyl, 100-200mcg; alfentanil 500-1000 mcg) and midazolam (10-20mg). Infusions were assessed as at least partially effective for 40/58 patients, while 13 patients died before review. Patients spent a median [IQR] of 2 [1-4] days under the palliative care team, who made 3 [2-5] contacts across patient, family and clinicians. At March 30 2020, 75 patients had died, 13 been discharged back to team, home or hospice, and 13 continued to receive inpatient palliative care. Palliative care is an essential component to the COVID-19 response, and teams must rapidly adapt with new ways of working. Breathlessness and agitation are common but respond well to opioids and benzodiazepines. Availability of subcutaneous infusion pumps is essential. An international minimum dataset for palliative care would accelerate finding answers to new questions as the COVID-19 pandemic develops.
The COVID-19 pandemic poses numerous – and substantial – ethical challenges to health and healthcare. Debate continues about whether there is adequate protective equipment, testing and monitoring, and about when a vaccine might become available and social restrictions might be lifted. The thorny dilemmas posed by triage and resource allocation also attract considerable attention, particularly access to intensive care resources, should demand outstrip supply.
But the “COVID fog” clouds more than the intensive care unit. The provision and uptake of non-COVID related treatment is declining, due to the de-prioritisation of some services and interventions, alongside non-COVID patients’ fears of contracting the virus; difficult conversations are being held in suboptimal circumstances; and final farewells and death rituals have been disrupted. Healthcare personnel, meanwhile, are facing moral distress and, for some, difficulties arising from undertaking new roles in unfamiliar settings.
The current outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 has and continues to put huge pressure on intensive care units (ICUs) worldwide. Many patients with COVID-19 require some form of respiratory support and often have prolonged ICU stays, which results in a critical shortage of ICU beds. It is therefore not always physically possible to treat all the patients who require intensive care, raising major ethical dilemmas related to which patients should benefit from the limited resources and which should not. Here we consider some of the approaches to the acute shortages seen during this and other epidemics, including some guidelines for triaging ICU admissions and treatments.
What does it mean to be vulnerable? Vulnerable groups of people are those that are disproportionally exposed to risk, but who is included in these groups can change dynamically. A person not considered vulnerable at the outset of a pandemic can become vulnerable depending on the policy response. The risks of sudden loss of income or access to social support have consequences that are difficult to estimate and constitute a challenge in identifying all those who might become vulnerable. Certainly, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, vulnerable groups are not only elderly people, those with ill health and comorbidities, or homeless or underhoused people, but also people from a gradient of socioeconomic groups that might struggle to cope financially, mentally, or physically with the crisis.
We read with interest the Editorial about redefining vulnerability in the era of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The Editors recognise underserved and marginalised populations enduring the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the category of vulnerable individuals or groups is not fixed but evolves in response to policies that might create or reinforce vulnerability. When we ask what being vulnerable means, are we also creating the spaces needed to question what it means to be made vulnerable?
Doctors, nurses, and family caregivers worldwide are facing tough decisions concerning the supply and administration of medications to manage symptoms when patients are dying from covid-19 or other conditions in the community or care homes. Proposed changes in practice aimed at ensuring adequate end-of-life symptom control need careful consideration alongside appropriate training and support.
Updated UK advice, including NICE rapid guidance on managing covid-19 symptoms in the community, reiterates the importance of prescribing medications in advance of need for pain, nausea and vomiting, agitation, and respiratory secretions. These drugs may be administered if needed by visiting doctors or nurses, as is already well established in some countries. However, this practice is being overhauled radically in response to the pandemic.
Family support is more, not less, important during crisis. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining public safety necessitates restricting the physical presence of families for hospitalized patients. In response, health systems must rapidly adapt family-centric procedures and tools to circumvent restrictions on physical presence. Strategies for maintaining family integrity must acknowledge clinicians’ limited time and attention to devote to learning new skills. Internet-based solutions can facilitate the routine, predictable, and structured communication which is central to family-centered care. But the reliance on technology may compromise patient privacy and exacerbate racial, socioeconomic, and geographic disparities for populations that lack access to reliable internet access, devices or technological literacy. We provide a toolbox of strategies for supporting family-centered inpatient care during physical distancing responsive to the current clinical climate. Innovations in the implementation of family involvement during hospitalizations may lead to long-term progress in the delivery of family-centered care.