Modern medicine allows the terminally ill to survive longer than ever, but debate continues about how much should be spent on aggressive end of life care and if such care is actually best for patients. TEDMED facilitated a live discussion about some possible solutions to these challenges with industry experts this week, as part of its Great Challenges series.
In 2010, Medicare paid $55 billion on doctor and hospital bills during the last two months of patients’ lives- more than the budget for the Department of Homeland Security, according to CBS News. Some 20 to 30 percent of those medical expenses may have had no meaningful impact on the patients’ health, according to the analysis.
The discussion tied those problems to the need for better advance care planning and communication between doctor and patient. End of life concerns take an emotional toll on a patient’s family and friends, especially in the absence of advance care plans, such as a living will or POLST form.
Some families may insist on more aggressive care for the patient because of religious or societal expectations. Some doctors do not adequately communicate a patient’s condition to family, providing loved ones with the false sense that more treatment will work. This failed communication often results in increased spending.
Medical schools continue to improve training in how to listen to patients and mind the severity of illnesses, said Richard Payne, M.D., professor of medicine and divinity at Duke University. “Generally, there is much more emphasis now on teaching doctors to listen empathically to patients and their wishes,” he said.
Although it may be difficult and uncomfortable, it is important to speak with loved ones about death and dying ahead of time, said Bruce Jennings, director of bioethics at the Center for Humans and Nature. “Advance planning and treatment planning are very important aspects of ensuring that the kind of care you receive at the end of life will be beneficial for you, and will respect your wishes and dignity,” Jennings said.
Debate about end of life care will become increasingly common. In 2000, there were more than 35 million Americans 65 and older. By 2030, there will be 72 million.
Learn more from the Life Matters Media Newswire: