There has been a lot of talk recently about end of life care and how people die in America as well as important recommendations made on how effective end of life care should be provided. But there is still much work to be done. Because the nature of this work cannot be resolved by more laboratory experimentation or investment in and mastery of technology, the kind of challenge presented to our healthcare system is actually more daunting, since it relates to how physicians’ communicate with their patients. The precise question I am raising with respect to the kind of end of life care patients receive at the end of their lives is this: Do physicians follow the golden rule? Do they give their patients the chance to have the same kind death they would want for themselves and for their families? Sadly, the answer is too often, no, they often do not follow the golden rule.
A recent study from Stanford University “found most physicians surveyed would choose a do-not-resuscitate or “no code” status for themselves if they were terminally ill even though they tend to pursue aggressive, life-prolonging treatment for patients facing the same prognosis.” At the same time, at 2013 JAMA study found that most seniors want to die at home or in the home of someone they know and avoid burdensome end of life treatments, yet only about 1 in 3, or less, actually do. In fact, about 1 in 3 people over 65 die still die in hospitals or ICU’s after having receiving aggressive, often burdensome, medical interventions. Of those that are moved to hospice care, 1 in 3 are there for less than three days before dying. So it’s safe to say that, though end of life care has improved for the past three decades, there are still many elderly people receiving overly aggressive, sometimes unwanted treatments, at the end of life. What are the barriers to elderly patients receiving the kind of end of life care they say they want? Let me go over two obvious ones.
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