As President and CEO of Arbor Hospice, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s Management and Leadership Conference last month. I had the pleasure of listening to the keynote speaker, Dr. Atul Gwande, M.D. discuss how hospice and palliative (comfort) care can transform the healthcare system. According to Dr. Gwande, it all begins with changing people’s views and dispelling the negativity behind hospice.
Atul Gawande, is an American physician, author and journalist who has written several articles for the New Yorker magazine. The one that gets the attention of hospice providers is his August 2, 2010 article titled “Letting Go: What should medicine do when it can’t save your life?” In it he presents several case studies that exemplify the fact that “our system of technological medical care has utterly failed to meet these needs, and the cost of this failure is measured in far more than dollars. The hard question we face, then, is not how we can afford this system’s expense. It is how we can build a health-care system that will actually help dying patients achieve what’s most important to them at the end of their lives.”
Hospice is not about letting nature take its course. It’s about helping those with terminal illness have the best day possible – every day. Curative medicine does the exact opposite. It says to patients, “You can sacrifice this day, or week, or month for the promise of a few extra days down the road.” But what does a few extra days do for a person’s quality of life? There is evidence that hospice care does more to increase quality of life than chemotherapy.
When people are facing illness, two options are presented: fight or do nothing. People often have the momentum to do something, and there is reluctance on the part of some physicians and families to refer people to hospice even though additional treatment is futile. One has to realize that referring someone to hospice IS doing something. Hospice is not a lack of action.
Hospice workers have to let others see the great results and positive impact hospice and palliative care has on people and their families. Studies have shown that hospice and palliative care services may actually prolong life. One clinical study, based on 4,493 terminally ill patients indicated that hospice patients lived an average of 29 days longer than those who received conventional treatment.
By changing the way we view hospice and palliative care, we can have a positive effect on the healthcare system as a whole. It starts right now.