NYT Article on Doctor Burnout Misses the Role of Patient Partnering

An interesting article in the Times on physician burnout collects the data the damage done to patients and does an excellent jo pointing out the need for institutional change rather than wedding out those who suffer burnout.

“The solution is not to weed out the ones who don’t care, but to support the large number of physicians who are deeply invested and have the capacity to provide excellent care, but lose that capacity over time,” Dr. Schonfeld said. “Physicians enter medical school deeply committed to the field, they come with the desire to be empathic and compassionate, if we just create a system that nurtures what they come with then we will have less burnout and higher quality care.”

It should not be the doctor’s responsibility to feel that “if I’m just more mindful, if I just exercise more or do it better or more consistently, all will be well, and I shouldn’t be feeling burned out or exhausted,” Dr. McClafferty said.

The fact that nearly half of physicians and over 50 percent of trainees experience burnout at some point “shows that it is not predominantly an individual deficit, but an organizational and system problem,” Dr. Schonfeld said

“If you’re my physician,” Dr. McClafferty said, “I want you to be in good shape mentally, physically and emotionally, so you can be really successful at helping me.”

All dead on, and very important. But, I would urge that building institutional structures that encourage patients to want to “take care” of our doctors could have a huge important.  Most of us are deeply grateful to our doctors — indeed to all the medical staff — and the best way to show that is to even just try to take care of our doctors.  I remember one of my doctors, when I gave her a copy of  new paper, said “I will put it on my self with the other gifts from patients.”  She was, I think, telling me how much she valued the gesture.  She did also promise to read the paper, saying that she liked to know what was going on in other fields.

I also try to engage my providers about things like the emotional difficulties of going from a massive crisis to a routine interaction.  I doubt it helps on the concrete level, but I hope it at least gives them permission to have emotions.

Above all, I suspect, conveying the sense of partnership, that we as patients take shared responsibility for decisions — both those that turn out well and those that turn out badly — helps reduce burnout.

Anyway, my overall point it is that is not just on the doctor and the institution, it is on all of us.

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Politico Article on “Crisis” Facing Hospice Highlights Growth of Inpatient Hospice Deaths

A recent article in Politico under the provocative title Hospice in Crisis makes the case that changes in family structure, improved life expectancy, technology and expectations are creating problems for the hospice movement because the rigidity of the reimbursement system does not allow for flexible responses.  In particular, the article points to the increased recognition of the need for in-patient hospice care:

Some experts see promise in using more inpatient care, whether in a freestanding “hospice house”—a more formal and regulated setting for care—or a section of hospital or nursing home. Hospice houses are more common than they were 20 years ago, but they are still not the norm. By 2015, the proportion of deaths in America that took place under inpatient hospice care rose to 8 percent, from zero in 1999, according to research recently published in Health Affairs. With soup on the stove, cookie dough in the fridge, and places for those who do have family and friends to gather, such houses don’t feel institutional. Mostly they’re used for a brief stay to control a crisis, or for a few days of respite care for family caregivers. But some who have studied hospice extensively, like Elizabeth Bradley, a health policy expert who recently became president of Vassar College, say it’s worth thinking about how this inpatient setting can take on a bigger role, at least toward the end. “It makes a lot of sense,” she said. “It’s not home—but it’s homelike. And it’s set up to pass you through the end of life.”

For those unfamiliar with the minutiae of the payment structure, while the Medicare system does allow for higher payments for inpatient hospice, availability is strictly controlled, with a percentage of days cap, and situation eligibility requirements.

Personally, having seen the physical strain that the end-of-life process puts on family caregiving networks (if they even exist), I believe that in patient hospice should be much more readily available.

Nor do I accept the argument that because almost everyone says they want to die at home, this is the end of the matter.  I believe that many say this because they feel that being at home means that they will be back in control.  But that is as much a comment on the lack of control that patients feel and fear in hospital than the desire for home as a specific place.

Once we design inpatient hospice that gives control to the patient, I suspect that many more will choose that option.

 

Guest Blog From Jill Harrison of Planetree on PCORI Research Participation Toolkit — The Time Has Come!

Editor’s Note: Thanks Jill for all your work on this project:

In the two years spanning Planetree’s project to understand how patient-family advisory councils (PFACs) engage in research, we have come to understand some of the key barriers experienced by patients and family members.  This project, which was funded by an Engagement Award through the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (www.pcori.org) involved focus groups with more than 21 PFACs around the country in a variety of healthcare settings (ie.- hospitals, nursing homes, drug rehab treatment centers, behavioral health communities, outpatient surgery centers, etc.).

What we learned is that patients and families still exist on the periphery of healthcare research.  That is, research undertaken to improve their lives, decision making, and health outcomes is often inaccessible to them.  Published research is made available through subscriptions to medical journals that are not affordable for individual consumers.  For example, one patient described finding a research article that she thought could help her understand her treatment options, only to discover that she was unable to see more than the abstract.  “If I wanted to read the entire thing, which I did….it was going to cost me $49 to buy it.  I don’t have that kind of money.”

When consumers were able to access publicly available research findings, they described being overwhelmed with jargon and statistical analyses that were difficult to understand.  “Maybe there should be some kind of summary for patients that tells us what the research was about and how we can use the information,” suggested a patient.  Some funding agencies, such as PCORI, and research journals are starting to require consumer-friendly summaries from researchers, but they are still the exception, rather than an industry rule.  PCORI is focused on supporting “research done differently.”  Patients and families in our project agree that the time has come.

Note:  Well said.

A Toolkit for Patient Involvement in Research

Plantree has just released a very nice toolkit for PFACS and others who want to increase patient engagement in research at all levels.  Here is the link.

Here is the table of contents:

toc

It is just so clear to me that research that includes the patient perspective will be far better — if only because it will help ensue that the outcomes measured are those that matter to patients as well as reserchers.

Disclosure, I helped and get an out-of-date photo in it!

Wrap Around Care and Right to Choose

A lovely NYT article by Jessica Nutik Zitter, headed Should I Help My Patients Die? gives a whole new, to me at least, perspective on the relationship between comprehensive care and end of life choice.  As a palliative care doctor in  state that allows, with multiple protections, assistance in the end of life process, she tells of this referral:

This first patient of mine was not a simple case. When I walked into his room, he glared at me. “Are you here to help me with this aid-in-dying thing?” he asked. He was in his early 60s, thin and tired, but in no obvious distress. From my read of his chart, he met all criteria to qualify. Terminal illness, decision-making capacity, ability to self-administer the medications. And he had made the requisite first request for the drugs two weeks earlier, as procedure dictates.

When I asked why he wanted to end his life early, he shrugged. “I’m just sick of living.” I asked about any symptoms that might lie behind his request: unrelenting pain, nausea, shortness of breath. He denied them all. In palliative care, we are taught that suffering can take many forms besides the physical. I probed further and the floodgates opened.

He felt abandoned by his sister. She cared only about his Social Security payments, he said, and had gone AWOL now that the checks were being mailed to her house. Their love-hate relationship spanned decades, and they were now on the outs. His despair had given way to rage.

“Let’s just end this,” he said. “I’m fed up with my lousy life.” He really didn’t care, he added, that his sister opposed his decision.

His request appeared to stem from a deep family wound, not his terminal illness. I felt he wanted to punish his sister, and he had found a way to do it.

At our second meeting, with more trust established, he issued a sob, almost a keening. He felt terrified and powerless, he said. He didn’t want to live this way anymore.

I understood. I could imagine my own distress in his condition — being shuttled like a bag of bones between the nursing home and the hospital. It was his legal right to request this intervention from me. But given how uncomfortable I was feeling, was it my right to say no?

In the end, the patient agrees to try an anti-depressant, and dies three moths later in a nursing home.

But the real reasons for the patient’s despair are not medical, not pain, but psychosocial and emotional, with strong legal and financial elements.  These were needs that the system, notwithstanding our growing understanding of the need for multi-faceted comprehensive care, is just not yet able to provide.

This leads me to want to put the question much more starkly:

Do we have the right to force people so stay alive when we are unable to give them what thy need to have hope and meaning in their lives?

In terms of our understanding what the above described patient needs, take a look at this graphic from the recent NQF document, Strategies for Change – A Collaborative Journey to Transform Advanced Illness Care

advanced-illness-care-graphic-1016-01_fotor

I encourage a look at the full paper linked above. (This link is to my summary)  Disclosure: I provided input).

When you look at all these areas, and the much more detailed descriptions in the full paper, I would suggest you realize how far we are from meeting the needs, and therefore how inappropriate it is to force people to stay alive and suffer needlessly.  At least in the enlightened states we understand this with respect to being pain free.  How about for the other needs?

P.S.  The importance of this issue is highlighted from this study from Canada, as reported in the Washington Post, finding that the majority of those who wanted to end their lives medically were driven by psychological suffering, rather than physical suffering.

Planetree Tool to Explain and Invite Patient Partnering Published in BMJ

The BMJ has just published, as a response to a British Medical Journal editorial, An Invitation to Patient and Family Engaged Care for Consumers: What it is, Why it Matters and How Patients and Families Can Engage.

This short document, of which I am listed as a co-author, explains the concept of patient engaged care, describes and briefly summarizes the Planetree – National Academy of Medicine framework synthesis of the research into the impact of this approach, and perhaps most importantly, then specifically welcomes and invites patients to become engaged and partnering team members.  (Note that my blog, attempting to summarize the very rich and detailed original Planetree-NAM paper, into which I had some input, is here.)

The BMJ response includes our offered model “Dear Patients & Families” letter, which could be used by medical institutions to explain, welcome and support full engaged participation.

For example, it references and summarizes the research as follows:

The good news is that research shows that patient and family engaged care leads to better relationships between you and your healthcare providers. It helps keeps patients safe. It reduces healthcare costs and keeps people from being unnecessarily readmitted to the hospital. Patient and family engaged care makes healthcare staff feel more connected to the work they do, which makes for a better experience for everyone.

Some of its specific invitations  and suggestions to patients are as follows:

  • On your next visit to your healthcare provider, ask them if they have seen the framework for patient and family engaged care. If not, direct them here: https://nam.edu/pfec.
  • Ask your healthcare provider if there is a way for you to be involved in improving care. For example, ask if they have a patient-family advisory council.
  • Ask to be part of the organization’s leadership or government team. Ask if patients are included as board members, for example.
  • Ask to be with your loved one at all times, if they want that. Question why there are restrictions to visiting patients. If having visitors is not beneficial to your healing process, enlist the support of your care team to set parameters for guests.
  • Ask that a Care Partner or family member be present and engaged for all conversations about your health.
  • State your feelings. They matter just as much as your physical condition.
  • Get involved in research. Ask about how your condition is being studied and how you can help.
  • Let your care team know how you like to receive information.
  • Ask to see and contribute to your medical record. If you don’t understand what you read in your medical record, ask questions until you do.
  • Tell your care provider what your health goals are – in your own terms (for instance, being able to walk up a flight of stairs, being able to play with your grandchildren without getting winded, etc.)
  • Come to doctor’s appointments prepared. Bring a notepad with questions, your medication list and any other pertinent personal healthcare information.
  • Create a medical biography about yourself. What conditions and medications have you had in the past? What are you currently experiencing? What are your goals for the future?
  • Act like you belong. Be a teammate, not a subject.

I think the last one, “Act like you belong. Be a teammate, not a subject,” sums the whole approach up perfectly.

I very much hope that medical institutions will want to include this letter in their intake, on-boarding process for new patients, and to encourage staff to use its suggestions as a framework for discussions with patients about a team approach and its specifics. It, together with the underlying NAM framework, could also be an excellent too for staff training at all levels on how not just to have an engagement discussion, but to make all discussions team discussions.

If this approach because a standard in most institutions, then we will truly be on the way way to a greatly improved system.

P.S. Working with Planetree on this has been a great honor and opportunity.

What To Expect From Death Itself, and Opportunities for Patient Partnering

I remember vividly, from when my sister was dying back in 1997 in the second hospice in the world (link to my parents’ book full text),  how important it was to my mother that when asked what she feared most, she was able to say “the death rattle” and that Dr. Robert Twycross was able to reassure her both of the insignificance of the sound, and that he would in any event make sure that it did not occur.

So, I found a new article by Doctor Sara Manning Peskin in the New York Times particularly powerful and empowering. Under the headline The Symptoms of Dying, Dr Peskin first points out that as the “letting go” gets closer, deaths become more and more similar.

You and I, one day we’ll die from the same thing. We’ll call it different names: cancer, diabetes, heart failure, stroke.

One organ will fail, then another. Or maybe all at once. We’ll become more similar to each other than to people who continue living with your original diagnosis or mine.

Dying has its own biology and symptoms. It’s a diagnosis in itself. While the weeks and days leading up to death can vary from person to person, the hours before death are similar across the vast majority of human afflictions.

Some symptoms, like the death rattle, air hunger and terminal agitation, appear agonizing, but aren’t usually uncomfortable for the dying person. They are well-treated with medications. With hospice availability increasing worldwide, it is rare to die in pain.

And, PLEASE PLEASE, note that last sentence.  Only a couple of days ago, at dinner at our retirement community, it turned out that several of our friends, informed, educated, with great access to services, still had no confidence that they would have a “good death.”

The article  (which is the first of two) then goes on to outline those various stages and symptoms the body may face: The Death Rattle, Air Hunger, and (the wrongly named) Terminal Agitation, and how they are addressed.

I guess the reason I find this relevant to patient partnering is that I think it is really important for anybody facing serious illness to be given information about all of this as soon as possible.  Having that on the table — or at least the general reassurance that it can all be managed when the time comes, will just make it far easier for an honest cooperative partnering discussion about whatever else needs to be engaged.  My guess is that most of those providing care will also become more relaxed when they know that patient and family want to know what will happen, and are willing to share their worries and have them addressed.