Wednesday, August 19, 2009

More Accurately Named "Life Panels"

For anyone who thinks health care reform involves "death panels," check out this AP article (I saw it in today's Star Tribune).

The entirety of what follows is a quote. I've shortened the article a bit (but you can read it all on the Strib site). I've added emphasis in a few spots.

As a political uproar rages over end-of-life counseling, a new study finds offering such care to dying cancer patients improves their mood and quality of life.

The study of 322 patients in rural New Hampshire and Vermont also suggests the counseling didn't discourage people from going to the hospital. The research didn't look at costs.

The study's publication in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association coincides with the fight over health care overhaul proposals in Congress.

Some conservatives have called end-of-life counseling included in one version of the bill "death panels" and a step toward euthanasia. A House proposal allows Medicare to pay doctors to chat with patients, if they desire it, about living wills, hospice and appointing a trusted person to make decisions when the patient is incapacitated....

In the new study, trained nurses did the end-of-life counseling, mostly by phone, with patients and family caregivers using a model based on national guidelines.

All the patients in the study had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Half were assigned to receive usual care. The other half received usual care plus counseling about managing symptoms, communicating with health care providers and finding hospice care.

Patients and their caregivers also could attend monthly 90-minute group meetings with a doctor and a nurse to ask questions and discuss problems in what's called a "shared medical appointment."

Patients who got the counseling scored higher on quality of life and mood measures than patients who did not.

The patients who got the counseling also lived longer, by more than five months on average, but that finding didn't reach a statistical level of significance....

In both groups, hospital stays were rare: six to seven days on average during the patients' last year of life. Betty Ferrell of City of Hope Medical Center in Duarte, Calif., who has done similar research but wasn't involved in the new study, said that's not surprising.

"It's patients and families in their own living rooms who are dealing with end-of-life care," Ferrell said. "They're not in the hospital. They're at home."

Ferrell, who leads a guidelines panel on end-of-life care, praised the study, which was funded by the National Cancer Institute, and said she hoped it would clear up misconceptions.

"This is about helping people live with the diagnosis the doctor has given," Ferrell said. "This study reflects on what kind of support do people deserve when they're dying."

Thanks to the National Cancer Institute for funding the research... a great use of our tax dollars!

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