Author Interviews, Brigham & Women's - Harvard, Critical Care - Intensive Care - ICUs, End of Life Care, JAMA / 21.03.2019 Interview with: Joanna Paladino, MD Director of Implementation, Serious Illness Care Program | Ariadne Labs Brigham and Women's Hospital | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Palliative Care | Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Instructor | Harvard Medical School and Dr. Rachelle Bernacki MD MS Director of Quality Initiatives Psychosocial Oncology and Palliative Care Senior Physician, Assistant Professor of Medicine Harvard Medical School Dr. Paladino's responses: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? Dr. Paladino: People living with serious illness face many difficult decisions over the course of their medical care. These decisions, and the care patients receive, should be guided by what matters most to patients, including their personal values, priorities, and wishes. These conversations don’t often happen in clinical practice or do so very late in the course of illness, leaving patients exposed to getting care they don’t want. Doctors and nurses want to have these important discussions, but there are real challenges, including insufficient training and uncertainties about when and how to start the conversation. We designed an intervention with clinical tools, clinician training, and systems-changes to address these challenges. When tested in a randomized clinical trial in oncology, we found that the intervention led to more, earlier, and better conversations between oncology clinicians and their patients with life-limiting cancer. These findings demonstrate that it is possible to ensure reliable, timely, and patient-centered serious illness conversations in an outpatient oncology practice. (more…)
Author Interviews, Brigham & Women's - Harvard, Diabetes, End of Life Care, JAMA / 01.01.2018 Interview with: Dr. Laura A. Petrillo MD Instructor in Medicine Harvard Medical School, and Palliative Care Physician Massachusetts General Hospital What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? Response: Hospice is end-of-life care focused on maximizing quality of life. Hospice often involves reducing or stopping treatments that are unlikely to have short-term benefit in order to avoid uncomfortable side effects. About a quarter of Americans die in nursing homes, and some of them receive hospice care in their final days. We looked at whether adults with type 2 diabetes experience low blood sugar while on hospice in veterans’ nursing homes, since low blood sugar signals inappropriately aggressive diabetes treatment in patients close to death and contributes to unnecessary discomfort. We found that one in nine people experienced low blood sugar at least once while receiving hospice care. Among people who were on insulin, the number was one in three. (more…)
Author Interviews, End of Life Care, JAMA / 08.02.2017 Interview with: Nathan A. Gray, M.D. Duke Palliative Care Durham, NC 27710 What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? Response: The estimated number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States has been stable in recent years, but lengths of residence in the country are rising. This aging population of undocumented immigrants can expect to face an increasing burden of chronic disease and end-of-life needs, but may experience challenges in obtaining hospice care in the last months of life as many are uninsured and none are eligible for the Medicare Hospice Benefit. While hospice agencies do provide charity care, little is known about hospice agency approaches to caring for undocumented immigrants. We surveyed a national sample of hospice agencies and found that many hospice agencies do not enroll undocumented immigrants or place restrictions on the number enrolled. More than half of agencies sampled had received requests for enrollment of undocumented immigrants in the past year. Offering unrestricted enrollment was more common among larger, not-for-profit hospices in our sample. (more…)
Author Interviews, End of Life Care, JAMA, University of Pittsburgh / 30.11.2016 Interview with: Dr. Dio Kavalieratos, PhD Assistant Professor of Medicine Section of Palliative Care and Medical Ethics Division of General Medicine Institute of Clinical Research University of Pittsburgh What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? Response: The field of palliative care has seen a dramatic surge in research and clinical implementation over the past decade. The last systematic review of palliative care trials was published in 2008. In that review, the authors reported very weak evidence for palliative care, as well as major methodological limitations in the trials that had been done to date. Since then, several landmark trials have been published, some with very compelling findings such increased survival. Therefore, an up-to-date review was in order. There also had not previously been enough trials to perform a meta-analysis. A meta-analysis is the statistical process of combining the results of multiple trials, which gives you an overall effect for an intervention, in this case, palliative care. We were able to conduct the first meta-analysis of the effect of palliative care with three important outcomes: patient quality of life, patient symptom burden, and patient survival. (more…)
Author Interviews, Brigham & Women's - Harvard, Cancer Research, Colon Cancer, End of Life Care, Lung Cancer / 09.09.2016 Interview with: Joseph A. Greer, Ph.D. Program Director, Center for Psychiatric Oncology & Behavioral Sciences Associate Director, Cancer Outcomes Research Program, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center Yawkey Center, Boston, MA 02114 What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? Response: Many patients with advanced cancer have a high symptom burden, increased depression symptoms, misperceptions about their prognosis, and difficulties in making decisions about care at the end of life. To address these challenges and improve care for this vulnerable population, our research team initially conducted a small, single-group pilot study of early palliative care integrated with standard oncology care for patients with advanced lung cancer. This study showed that the model of integrated care was feasible and acceptable to patients and their families. Specifically, the majority of patients in the study were able to meet with a palliative care clinician at least monthly from the time of diagnosis of metastatic lung cancer, in order to receive help with managing symptoms as well as support for coping with the disease and making decisions about treatment. We then conducted a follow-up randomized controlled trial of early, integrated palliative care in a sample of approximately 150 patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer. This study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2010 and showed that those patients who received early palliative care reported significantly improved quality of life, mood, prognostic awareness, and end-of-life care compared to those who received standard oncology care alone. To confirm the findings of our prior research and to determine whether the benefits of early integrated palliative care would apply to a larger sample of patients with diverse malignancies, we recently completed another randomized trial of this same model of care in a sample of 350 patients with incurable lung and gastrointestinal cancers. In this trial, we observed that patients who received the early palliative care intervention reported higher quality of life and improved mood by 24 weeks but not at the primary end-point of 12 weeks. Our team was surprised to find that the trajectory of quality of life and depression symptoms over time was different for individuals with incurable lung versus gastrointestinal cancers in this study. As expected, the palliative care intervention positively buffered the decline in quality of life by 12 weeks for patients with incurable lung cancer, as we had seen in our prior trial. However, the group of patients with gastrointestinal cancers reported an improvement in their quality of life by the 12-week time point regardless of whether they received the palliative care intervention. We are still exploring possible reasons for this difference, such as whether changes in cancer therapy may have reduced symptoms and improved quality of life in the group of patients with gastrointestinal cancer. In addition, we were pleased to learn that the early integrated palliative care intervention led to improvements in how patients cope with their illness. For example, compared to patients in the usual oncology care group, those who received early, integrated palliative care were more likely to learn ways to accept their diagnosis and to take positive actions to make their lives better. So, in addition to treating patients’ symptoms, the palliative care clinicians in this study were bolstering people’s adaptive coping skills. (more…)
ASCO, Author Interviews, Cancer Research, End of Life Care / 09.09.2016 Interview with: Erin Kent, PhD, MS Program Director Outcomes Research Branch of the Healthcare Delivery Research Program National Cancer Institute What is the background for this study? Response: Informal or family caregivers assist loved ones by providing care which is typically uncompensated, takes place typically at home, and often involves significant efforts for an extended period of time. Caregiving can require the performance of demanding tasks, which include managing symptom burden, monitoring for side effects from treatment, coordinating care, administering medication, and managing a care recipient’s financial and social obligations. In addition, there are many unique aspects of cancer that can place unique demands on caregivers, including sometimes a rapid deterioration of health, the receipt of multi-modal therapy (eg. surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation), and the possibility of cancer recurrence. (more…)
Author Interviews, Depression, End of Life Care, JAMA / 28.05.2015

Katherine Ornstein, PhD MPH Assistant Professor Brookdale Department of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine Institute for Translational Epidemiology Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai One Gustave L. Levy Place, Box 1070 New York, NY Interview with: Katherine Ornstein, PhD MPH Assistant Professor Brookdale Department of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine Institute for Translational Epidemiology Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai New York, NY 10029 Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? Dr. Ornstein: There is an increased focus on the need to support caregivers and families, particularly at the End of Life (EOL). They play a critical role in the care process and decision making, yet this can be a very high stress role with an increased risk for negative consequences. Hospice services, which are increasing, are focused on palliative rather than curative care and include medical services, symptom management, spiritual counseling, social services and bereavement counseling delivered by an interdisciplinary team of professionals for dying patients.  An important part of the hospice service is the provision of support to families during illness and after death.  Prior research suggests that hospice (which is cost saving, has benefits to patients), may also  be beneficial to families. Yet these studies have been largely limited to patients with cancer, have failed to adequately control for differences between patients who do or do not use hospice. Overall, there was an increase in depressive symptoms after death.  However, surviving spouses of those who used hospice were more likely to have a decrease in depressive symptoms. We found that the positive benefit of hospice was much stronger when we looked at least 1 year after death. (more…)
Author Interviews, Cancer Research, End of Life Care, JAMA / 12.11.2014

Ziad Obermeyer, MD, MPhil Emergency Medicine, Brigham & Women's Hospital Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical Interview with: Ziad Obermeyer, MD, MPhil Emergency Medicine, Brigham & Women's Hospital Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings? Dr. Obermeyer: More patients with cancer use hospice today than ever before, but there are indications that care intensity outside of hospice is increasing, and length of hospice stay decreasing. We examined how hospice affects health care utilization and costs and found that, in a sample of elderly Medicare patients with advanced cancer, hospice care was associated with significantly lower rates of both health care utilization and total costs during the last year of life. Patients who did not enroll in hospice had considerably more aggressive care in their last year of life—most of it related to acute complications like infections and organ failure, and not directly related to cancer-directed treatment. Hospice and non-hospice patients had similar patterns of health care utilization until the week of hospice enrollment, when care began to diverge. Ultimately, non-hospice patients were five times more likely to die in hospitals and nursing homes. These differences in care contributed to a statistically-significant difference in total costs of $8,697 over the last year of life ($71,517 for non-hospice and $62,819 for hospice). (more…)
Author Interviews, Cancer Research, End of Life Care / 20.06.2014

Daniel Rocke, MD Medical School University of Michigan Medical School Ann Arbor, Interview with Daniel Rocke, MD Duke Medicine Department Otolaryngology MedicalResearch: What are the main findings of the study? Dr. Rocke: I think the main point is that, to quote the paper, "end-of-life decision making by patients with cancer and their caregivers is significantly affected by their preference for quality of life or quantity of life, but OHNS physicians’ decision making is not." This is important because physicians counseling patients making end-of-life decisions are coming at these decisions from a different perspective that may not line up with their patients. If physicians recognize this, I think that these end-of-life discussions can be more productive (more…)
Author Interviews, BMJ, Cancer Research, Chemotherapy, End of Life Care / 05.03.2014

Holly G. Prigerson, Ph.D. Irving Sherwood Wright Professor in Geriatrics Professor of Sociology in Medicine Co-Director, Center for End-of-Life Research Weill Cornell Medical College New York Presbyterian Hospital New York City, New York Interview with: Holly G. Prigerson, Ph.D. Irving Sherwood Wright Professor in Geriatrics Professor of Sociology in Medicine Co-Director, Center for End-of-Life Research Weill Cornell Medical College New York Presbyterian Hospital New York City, New York 10065 What are the main findings of the study? Dr. Prigerson: The main outcome of the research was end-of-life treatment and location of death with secondary outcomes being length of survival, late hospice referrals and attainment of preferred place of death. We found that 56 percent of patients receiving palliative chemotherapy in their final months.  Patients treated with palliative chemotherapy were five to 10 times more likely to receive intensive medical care and to die in an intensive care unit (ICU). Fewer than half died at home as compared with two-thirds of patients with metastatic cancer not treated with palliative chemotherapy. More specifically, we found that palliative chemotherapy was associated with:
  • Increased use of CPR and mechanical ventilation: 14% versus 2%
  • Late hospice referral: 54% versus 37%
  • Death in an ICU: 11% versus 2%
  • Death away from home: 47% versus 66%
  • Death away from their preferred place: 65% versus 80%
Survival did not differ significantly between patients who received palliative chemotherapy and those who did not (hazard ratio 1.11, 95% CI 0.90-1.38). Additionally, patients receiving palliative chemotherapy were less likely to acknowledge their illness as terminal (35% versus 49%, P=0.04), to have discussed end-of-life wishes with a physician (37% versus 48%, P=0.03), and to have completed a do-not-resuscitate order (36% versus 49%, P<0.05). (more…)
Author Interviews, End of Life Care, JAMA / 17.12.2013 Interview with: Garrett M. Chinn, MD, MS Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Harvard Medical School, Boston What are the main findings of this study: Dr. Chinn:  Despite the desire of most Americans facing terminal illness to spend their remaining time at home, only 24% of those aged 65 and older do so. Many spend their final days in an institutional setting such as an acute care hospital, often receiving aggressive care. In the case of patients facing stage 4 lung cancer, many who would prefer to emphasize pain relief over extending life report not having discussed hospice with a physician. More than 25% indicate that they had not addressed advanced care directives such as do-not-resuscitate orders with their doctors but wanted to do so. This tells us that patients wish to better understand their illness and prognosis and might be interested in learning about hospice. And although the general trend for hospice utilization has increased over the past decade, a high percentage of hospice enrollment occurs quite late in the course of illness, often during an acute hospitalization. (more…)