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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Don't ever come back: Barriers to palliative care

Dr. Bruce Ferrell, who helps lead the palliative care program at UCLA Medical Center, recalls a patient two years ago who got a liver transplant but developed serious complications afterward and remained in the hospital for a year. "He had never ever been told that he would have to live with a ventilator and dialysis," Dr. Ferrell said. "He was never told that this was as good as it's going to get."

Dr. Ferrell talked with the patient about whether he might want to leave the intensive care unit (ICU) to go home and receive hospice care. But when the surgeon overseeing the case found out, he was furious.

"We do not use the h-word [hospice] on my patients," the surgeon told Dr. Ferrell. "Don't ever come back."

The patient chose to leave.

The UCLA Medical Center consistently ranks as one of the most expensive places in the U.S. to get end-of-life care, though its patients' outcomes are similar to hospitals that spend much less.

Advice to patients near the end of life: Even when in the hospital, you can insist on considering hospice care.

Read a story about hospice care. Thanks to Reed Abelson for the source story in today's New York Times.

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