This issue of Medical Clinics, guest edited by Dr. Eric Widera, is devoted to Palliative Care. Articles in this important issue include: Hospice and palliative care: an overview; Goals of care conversations in palliative care: A practical guide; The art and science of prognostication in palliative care; Recognizing and managing polypharmacy in advanced illness; Pain management in those with serious illness; Management of grief, depression, and suicidal thoughts in those with serious illness; Management of respiratory symptoms in those with serious illness; Management of gastrointestinal symptoms inadvanced illness; Management of urgent medical conditions at the end of life; Delirium at the end of life; Options of last resort: palliative sedation, Physician aid in dying and voluntary cessation of eating and drinking; Cannabis for symptom management; and Self-care of physicians caring for patients with serious illness.
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.
Prognostication is a vital aspect of decision making because it provides patients and families with information to establish realistic and achievable goals of care, is used in determining eligibility for certain benefits, and helps in targeting interventions to those likely to benefit. Prognostication consists of 3 components: clinicians use their clinical judgment or other tools to estimate the probability of an individual developing a particular outcome over a specific period of time; this prognostic estimate is communicated in accordance with the patient's information preferences; the prognostic estimate is interpreted by the patient or surrogate and used in clinical decision making.
COVID-19 continues to impact older adults disproportionately, from severe illness and hospitalization to increased mortality risk. Concurrently, concerns about potential shortages of healthcare professionals and health supplies to address these needs have focused attention on how resources are ultimately allocated and used. Some strategies misguidedly use age as an arbitrary criterion, which inappropriately disfavors older adults. This statement represents the official policy position of the American Geriatrics Society (AGS). It is intended to inform stakeholders including hospitals, health systems, and policymakers about ethical considerations to consider when developing strategies for allocating scarce resources during an emergency involving older adults. Members of the AGS Ethics Committee collaborated with interprofessional experts in ethics, law, nursing, and medicine (including geriatrics, palliative care, emergency medicine, and pulmonology/critical care) to conduct a structured literature review and examine relevant reports. The resulting recommendations defend a particular view of distributive justice that maximizes relevant clinical factors and de-emphasizes or eliminates factors placing arbitrary, disproportionate weight on advanced age. The AGS positions include: (1) avoiding age per se as a means for excluding anyone from care; (2) assessing comorbidities and considering the disparate impact of social determinants of health; (3) encouraging decision makers to focus primarily on potential short-term (not long-term) outcomes; (4) avoiding ancillary criteria such as "life-years saved" and "long-term predicted life expectancy" that might disadvantage older people; (5) forming and staffing triage committees tasked with allocating scarce resources; (6) developing institutional resource allocation strategies that are transparent and applied uniformly; and (7) facilitating appropriate advance care planning. The statement includes recommendations that should be immediately implemented to address resource allocation strategies during COVID-19, aligning with AGS positions. The statement also includes recommendations for post-pandemic review. Such review would support revised strategies to ensure that governments and institutions have equitable emergency resource allocation strategies, avoid future discriminatory language and practice, and have appropriate guidance to develop national frameworks for emergent resource allocation decisions.
Accurate prognostication is challenging in the setting of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, due to rapidly changing data, studies that are not generalizable and lack of morbidity and functional outcomes in survivors. To provide meaningful guidance to patients, existing mortality data must be considered and appropriately applied. While most people infected with SARS-CoV-2 will recover, mortality increases with age and co-morbidity in those who develop severe illness.
COVID-19 continues to impact older adults disproportionately with respect to serious consequences ranging from severe illness and hospitalization to increased mortality risk. Concurrently, concerns about potential shortages of healthcare professionals and health supplies to address these issues have focused attention on how these resources are ultimately allocated and used. Some strategies, for example, misguidedly use age as an arbitrary criterion, which disfavors older adults in resource allocation decisions. This is a companion manuscript to the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) position statement, "Resource Allocation Strategies and Age-Related Considerations in the COVID-19 Era and Beyond." It is intended to inform stakeholders including hospitals, health systems, and policymakers about ethical considerations that should be considered when developing strategies for allocation of scarce resources during an emergency involving older adults. This review presents the legal and ethical background for the position statement and discusses the following issues that informed the development of the AGS positions: (1) age as a determining factor; (2) age as a tiebreaker; (3) criteria with a differential impact on older adults; (4) individual choices and advance directives; (5) racial/ethnic disparities and resource allocation; and (6) scoring systems and their impact on older adults. It also considers the role of advance directives as expressions of individual preferences in pandemics.