Thursday, March 31, 2016

More Resources on Dementia

A friend sent me several recent resources about elders with dementia.  The Hospice and Nursing Home Blog published a video on Doctors’ End-of-Life Language, Impact on Patient-Caregiver Decisions.  The Agency on Healthcare Research and Quality published Nonpharmacologic Interventions for Agitation and Aggression in DementiaThe pdf of the article is available here. Finally, in February, 2016, this article, Palliative care of patients with advanced dementia was published in UpToDate (which is "an evidence-based, physician-authored clinical decision support resource....")

Thanks to my friend Pamela Burdett for sending me the links to these 3 publications.

March 31, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Family Finances, POAs, and Telephone Help Lines in the Third Age

Roz Chast's memoir of life with her parents as they aged, Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, uses humor to explore the complicated issues that can arise when aging parents and their adult children try to address physical frailty and financial complexities in the "third age" of life.   Another look, equally realistic and also ruefully humorous, comes from William Power, writing for the Wall Street Journal in "The Difficult, Delicate Untangling of Our Parents' Financial Lives."   Thanks to the WSJ for making this an  unlocked article for digital access! 

Power begins with that ever-humbling attempt to use "help lines" to solve problems by phone:

“No, no, no, don’t transfer me to her again,” pleads my wife.  It is a typically frustrating moment in our family crisis, one that many grown children will have to face, ready or not: We are people in our 50s who are unraveling the finances of parents who can no longer do it themselves.

 

My wife, Julie, is on the phone with the company where her 82-year-old dad had once worked, trying to change the direct deposit of his pension checks to a bank closer to the assisted-living home where he and his wife now live, which is near us in Pennsylvania. Again and again, she is transferred to the person in charge, “Rose.” And every time, the same recording: “This number has been disconnected.”

Power's account is punctuated by practical advice for others, including the importance of teamwork, involving both family members and others, in tackling the issues, as well as the use of key document-based tools, including Powers of Attorney, or as he stresses, "Repeat after Me: POA, POA, POA."  

My thanks to Amy Bartylla, a long-time friend, for this article referral.

 

March 29, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Consumer Information, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, Property Management | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

More Articles on Physician-Aided Dying

Here are three recent articles of note on Physician-Aided Dying (PAD) that might be useful in your classes.

First,  the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Psychiatry ran at article on February 10, 2016, Physician-Assisted Death for Patients With Mental Disorders—Reasons for Concern.  As the article opens: 

Physician assistance to help people end their lives—by prescribing or directly administering medication—is now legal in some form in 4 American states, Canada, and 4 European countries. In the United States, laws permitting physicians to write prescriptions for medications intended to end patients’ lives are limited to patients with terminal conditions and preclude physician administration of the medication. However, other countries, including the Netherlands, allow direct physician involvement and have expanded the criteria to include patients with irremediable suffering, whatever the cause. Therefore, the door has been opened for people whose suffering is primarily due to mental disorders to seek assistance in dying. (citations omitted)

Next in the same volume is the article about the study referenced in the first article: Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide of Patients With Psychiatric Disorders in the Netherlands 2011 to 2014.  The full article is free, and the tables and references are also available in the online version.  The authors conclude

Despite some limitations, an important strength of our study is that we examined reports of actual psychiatric EAS cases across an entire jurisdiction, rather than asking physicians to recollect their experiences or opinions. The results show that the patients receiving EAS are mostly women and of diverse ages, with various chronic psychiatric conditions, accompanied by personality disorders, significant physical problems, and social isolation or loneliness. Refusals of treatment were common, requiring challenging physician judgments of futility. Perhaps reflecting the complexity of such situations, the physicians performing EAS generally sought multiple consultations (but not always), and disagreement among physicians—especially regarding competence and futility—was not unusual. Despite these complexities, a significant number of physicians performing EAS were new to the patients. We conclude that the practice of EAS for psychiatric disorders involves complicated, suffering patients whose requests for EAS often require considerable physician judgment. The retrospective oversight system in the Netherlands generally defers to the judgments of the physicians who perform and report EAS. Whether the system provides sufficient regulatory oversight remains an open question that will require further study.

The New York Times ran an article about the study on February 10, 2016. Assisted Suicide Study Questions Its Use for Mentally Ill notes that

A new study of doctor-assisted death for people with mental disorders raises questions about the practice, finding that in more than half of approved cases, people declined treatment that could have helped, and that many cited loneliness as an important reason for wanting to die. The study, of cases in the Netherlands, should raise concerns for other countries debating where to draw the line when it comes to people’s right to die,

Discussing the findings from the study, the NY Times article notes that that it

finds that cases of doctor-assisted death for psychiatric reasons were not at all clear-cut, even in the Netherlands, the country with the longest tradition of carefully evaluating such end-of-life choices. People who got assistance to die often sought help from doctors they had not seen before, and many used what the study called a “mobile end-of-life clinic” — a nurse and a doctor, funded by a local euthanasia advocacy organization.

Good sources for your classes and for students writing papers on the topic!

 

February 23, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Health Care/Long Term Care, International, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 22, 2016

Feeding Tubes at End of Life? Study Uses Medicare-Data to Evaluate Care for Older Patients

A John A. Hartford Foundation-sponsored study released this month uses Medicare data to examine health care for older Americans, with a self-described "emphasis on the patient's perspective." Both the methodology and the conclusions are intriguing.  The researchers report:

For the first time, we measure the intensity of care in terms of how many days per year the average Medicare beneficiary is in contact with the health care system. We can see that beneficiaries in some regions see twice as many unique clinicians for ambulatory care than in others. We also can see in which regions beneficiaries are more likely than not to have a primary care physician as their predominant provider of care.

 

We also examine the adoption of new evidence-based practices to show that, while some regions showed substantial progress, others still fall short. For example, in some regions, fewer seniors are being prescribed inappropriate high-risk medications, and in others, thirty-day readmission rates are falling. Yet screening tests for prostate cancer and breast cancer among beneficiaries 75 and older remain unnecessarily high, and the data in this report suggest that we are still waiting too long to refer patients to hospice care.

On the one hand, the report demonstrates wide regional variation in the percentage of patients enrolled in "hospice" during the last three days of an individual's life.  The researchers conclude: "Referrals to hospice care that are done too late ... adversely affect the quality of care, the reported experiences of patients and families, and their satisfaction with the health care system." 

On the other hand, the report cites "clinical evidence" that shows that "feeding tube placement" in patients with advanced dementia "does not prolong life or improve outcomes, and in fact leads to further complications and adverse effects such as the increased use of restraints."  Nonetheless, the report shows that in some regions of the country, 12% to 14% of patients with dementia may be on feeding tubes, pointing to locations such as southern California, Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Dearborn, Michigan.

For the full report, see the Dartmouth Atlas project report, "Our Patients, Ourselves: Health Care for an Aging Population." 

Further, for an region-specific analysis of the report findings, see iNewsource's "Care for San Diego's Dying Patients Needs to Improve, Study Finds."

February 22, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Medicare, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Diane Rehm and More on Assisted Dying

Many of you recognize the name Diane Rehm, from NPR, where she has had her show, The Diane Rehm Show, for many years. "Retiring" at the end of 2016 doesn't mean she will be out of the public eye, according to a recent article in the Washington Post. Diane Rehm’s next act: Using her famed voice to fight for the good death is a profile of Mrs. Rehm that also summarizes her writings.  Her 2014 memoir relates how her husband ended his life on his own by refusing food and fluids, since physician-aided dying is not legal in their state. 

Mrs. Rehm is quoted "[I]t’s time for me to retire, especially on the issue of right-to-die, to be able to speak out and to speak freely....”  In addition to supporting the right to die, she plans to champion research on Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

February 16, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Health Care/Long Term Care, Retirement | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 5, 2016

Is It Possible to "Care for Mom When You Live Far Away"? -- ElderLawGuy Shows How

My friend and mentor Jeffrey Marshall, a/k/a ElderLawGuy on Twitter, once again uses practical experiences to illustrate how "planning in advance" for the possibility of emergencies makes sense, particularly as our loved ones age.  He tracks the aftermath of an always dreaded "fall," an event in the life of an older person that too often can precipitate a downward spiral in the absence of a holistic care plan plan:  

[M]y wife and I were thousands of miles away. How could we get her the immediate help that she needed?

 

Fortunately, the help was available. My wife and I had previously hired a professional care manager, Bonnie, in the town where gramma lives. As soon as we got the call from the emergency room we contacted Bonnie and filled her in. She swung into action at once. She visited gramma and evaluated her condition. She implemented a system of caregivers to stay with gramma. She set up a Monday morning appointment with gramma’s physician, attended it with her, and reported back to the family.

 

Bonnie served as the family’s eyes and ears and local expert and was able to ensure that gramma got the care and support she needed when she needed it.  

For more details, read Jeff's blog post, "Caring for Mom when you are far away."  I know that in my own family, who also lives far apart, over the course of my regular visits home I probably visited 10 different care providers with my mother or sister.  This was during the year before we actually made the decision for my father.  I kept saying "we can make these decisions without an emergency." It became my mantra. Not every emergency needs to be an emergency....  

February 5, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Consumer Information, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

If The Issue Is Accountability, Which Is Better? Power of Attorney or Guardianship?

Here are two recent appellate cases that offer views on issues of "accountability" by surrogate-decision makers.  

In the case of In re Guardianship of Mueller (Nebraska Court of Appeals, December 8, 2015), an issue was whether the 94-year-old matriarch of the family, who "suffered from moderate to severe Alzheimer's disease and dementia and resided in a skilled nursing facility," needed a "guardian."  On the one hand, her widowed daughter-in-law held "powers of attorney" for both health care and asset management, and, as a "minority shareholder" and resident at Mue-Cow Farms, she argued she was capable of making all necessary decisions for her mother-in-law.  She took the position that appointment of another family member as a guardian was unnecessary and further, that allowing that person to sell Mue-Cow Farms would fail to preserve her mother-in-law's estate plan in which she had expressly devised the farm property, after her death, to the daughter-in-law.  

The court, however, credited the testimony of a guardian-ad-litem (GAL), who expressed concern over the history of finances during the time that the daughter-in-law and the mother-in-law lived together on the farm, and further, expressing concerns over the daughter-in-law's plans to return her mother-in-law to the farm, even after a fall that had caused a broken hip and inability to climb stairs.  Ultimately, the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's appointment of the biological daughter as the guardian and conservator, with full powers, as better able to serve the best interest of their elder.  

Despite rejection of the POA as evidence of the mother's preference for a guardian,  the court concluded that it was "error for the county court to authorize [the daughter/guardian] to sell the Mue-Cow property.... There was ample property in [the mother's] estate that could have been sold to adequately fund [her] care for a number of years without invading specifically devised property." 

In an Indiana Court of Appeals case decided January 12, 2016, the issue was whether one son had standing to request and receive an accounting by his brother, who, as agent under a POA, was handling his mother's finances under a Power of Attorney.  In 2012, Indiana had broadened the statutory authority for those who could request such an accounting, but the lower court had denied application of that accounting to POAs created prior to the effective date of the statute.  The appellate court reversed:

The 2012 amendment did confer a substantive right to the children of a principal, the right to request and receive an accounting from the attorney in fact. Such right does apply prospectively in that the child of a principal only has the statutory right to request an accounting on or after July 1, 2012, but not prior to that date. The effective date of the powers of attorney are not relevant to who may make a request and receive an accounting, as only the class of persons who may request and receive an accounting, and therefore have a right to an accounting, has changed as a result of the statutory amendments to Indiana Code section 30-5-6-4. Therefore, that is the right that is subject to prospective application, not the date the powers of attorney were created

These cases demonstrate that courts have key roles in mandating accountability for surrogate decision-makers, whether under guardianships or powers of attorney.

January 28, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

More on the Right to Die

Mother Jones, in the January/February 2016 issue, ran a story, My Right to Die: Assisted Suicide, My Family, and Me by Kevin Drum. This story starts with a personalized account of an individual who was terminally ill but didn't have the option of physician-aided dying.  The story provides an in-depth look at the laws of physician-aided dying and the arguments, both for and against.  The article then becomes even more personal when the author reveals his diagnosis of cancer for which there is no cure.  He reviews his options for the future and remarks that the California law on physician-aided dying now provides an option he didn't have until the law was signed.

The author speculates: is "assisted suicide is the next big civil rights battle? The fact that four states have approved assisted suicide in just the past seven years suggests momentum may finally be reaching critical mass. What's more, if Gallup's polling is to be believed, the word "suicide" has finally lost its shock value. Still, legislation continues to fail more often than it passes, even in blue states like Massachusetts and Connecticut. Right now, it's just too early to tell." The article can serve as a good foundation for a classroom discussion.

January 26, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, January 25, 2016

Science, Elder Law and Genetic Counseling...

I think I might like winter better, if it always happened "conveniently" and with plenty of notice, as did Saturday's snow in Pennsylvania.  For once, I was prepared to be at home, with a stack of good reading materials for catching up when the joys of house-cleaning and snow shoveling faded. 

I am intrigued by the Fall 2015 issue of the NAELA Journal that focuses on how advances in genetic testing and medicine may be reflected in the roles of lawyers who specialize in elder and special needs counseling.  A leading article in the issue introduces the three primary uses of modern genetic testing -- for diagnosis of disease, for determination of carrier status, and for predictive testing -- while reminding us there are limits to each function.  In looking at age-related issues, the authors note:

 

Genetic testing is beginning to reveal information regarding susceptibilities to the dis­eases associated with old age: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and cancer. Genetic test results showing a higher risk of such diseases can result in a cascade of conse­quences. Francis Collins, mentioned at the beginning of this article, responded to his test results thoughtfully by making lifestyle changes to reduce the probability that the increased genetic risk would be expressed in actual disease. It is important to note that, for some con­ditions, lifestyle factors’ influence on disease risk is understood; however, for many of the conditions that affect seniors, this influence is not yet known.

 

Other reactions to a high-risk test result may be more aggressive than diet and exer­cise changes. A well-publicized example is Angelina Jolie’s bilateral mastectomy. She was cancer-free but learned that she carries a BRCA1 mutation, which increases her lifetime risk for breast and ovarian cancer. She chose to undergo prophylactic mastectomy to reduce her breast cancer risk, whereas other women choose to increase breast cancer surveillance, such as undergoing more mammograms and breast MRIs. Both options are available to women who carry a BRCA1/2 mutation.

 

Will those found to be at elevated risk for more complex conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease make premature life choices, such as early retirement or mar­riage, based on perceived risk? Earlier in this article it is explained that an individual’s geno­type rarely determines his or her medical destiny. For example, many people with a higher genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease will not actually develop it, while many with no apparent higher genetic risk will. Is the risk that members of the general public will misunderstand and overreact to the results of a genetic test sufficient reason to prevent them from obtaining the information gleaned from such a test? Should we be ensuring that those undergoing genetic testing are aware of its benefits and limitations through individualized genetic counseling? This, of course, presents its own challenges of access and availability.

In reading this, it seems likely that lawyers may encounter complicated issues of confidentiality, especially when counseling "partnered" clients, while also increasing the significance of long-range financial planning and assets management.  

For more, read Genetic Testing and Counseling Primer for Elder Law and Special Needs Planning Attorneys, by CELA Gregory Wilcox  and Rachel Koff, Licensed Certified Genetic Counselor. 

January 25, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Discrimination, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Retirement, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

JAMA Current Issue Death, Dying and End of Life

The January 19, 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) is a theme issue on Death, Dying and End of Life.  There are 15 articles and opinion pieces on a range of topics, including several on physician-aided dying, as well as an audio of the editors' summary.  Check it out!

January 20, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Revisiting the Saga of Dr. Gerald Klooster

My Blogging colleague Becky Morgan suggested that our faculty readers share hot topics or videos they are using in Elder Law courses.  Along that line, I'm using an excerpt from a Dateline NBC program (archived in part by NBC, although special arrangements appear to be required for copies) from several years ago, that provides a dramatic introduction to a number of age-related legal issues. 

The program tells the story of Dr. Gerald Klooster and his family.  In 1995, friends of the family became concerned when they learned that Dr. Klooster, once a practicing obstetrician in California who was forced to retire early from his practice as the result of a diagnosis of Alzheimer's, had an appointment with his wife to meet with Dr. Kevorkian, of "assisted suicide" fame.  One son, also a physician, became so concerned that he made the decision to whisk away his father to the son's own state of Michigan, for safeguarding.  That triggered a two-state custody battle, initially resulting in inconsistent court rulings.  Eventually, however, Dr. Klooster was returned to California where he resumed living with his wife, Ruth, and regularly saw his other children and grandchildren.  The NBC program shows Gerald swimming and interacting with his family members.

One night, however, emergency personnel were summoned to the Klooster home, when it was learned that Gerald had ingested as many as 60 sleeping pills and alcohol in the middle of the night. Ruth is the one who called the emergency personnel, but then also reportedly directed them not to provide certain life-saving treatments.  She was relying on her husband's pre-dementia living will.

Gerald Klooster did survive, and the NBC program provides fascinating interviews with family members, and shows the couple sitting hand-in-hand.  Did he knowingly attempt to take his own life? Did he do so because he was a physician and, as his wife put it, "didn't want to live the disease through?"  Or did Alzheimer's prevent him from having the capacity to make any such decision?  The saga was also detailed in a New York Times article, linked here.

Lots of food for discussion with this story.  It introduces the limitations of advance directives or living wills; it encourages discussion about Alzheimer's as a "real" phenomenon; it provides a stage for discussing powers of attorney, guardianships and family caregiver roles, just to name a few topics still "hot" today.  Plus, it offers historical perspective on recent changes in laws, including uniform laws on jurisdiction for protective proceedings for adults, and assisted-suicide laws, including the California law that became effective on January 1 of this year.

The Klooster Saga lasts several years beyond the NBC Dateline story itself, as Dr. Klooster did live with his wife in California for additional  years, before spending his last 18 months in a nursing center. According to this San Francisco news report, he passed away at the age of 72 of natural causes, but, sadly, the break in the relationship between his physician-son and the rest of the family had not healed. 

January 13, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Gloomy -- but Interesting -- Statistics about Holiday-Season Deaths

Over the holidays in December, I spent time with family in a hospital,  responding to an emergency health situation.  One of the staff told me it is "always" busier at the holidays, and she attributed this to family members gathering together and "realizing" that a loved one's health was declining.  However, there may be more to it than that.  Former New York Administrative Law Judge Karen Miller shared a very interesting Wall Street Journal article reporting on the trends in deaths at the holidays.  While some of the information is, perhaps, expected, as you think about stress and weather contributing to health risks, the spike in deaths in early 2015 was unusual, when "nearly a third more senior citizens died than normal in the first two weeks of the new year."  For more data, read "Why Death Doesn't Take a Holiday This Time of Year."

Thankfully, in our family we weren't dealing with a death! Thanks for sharing this article, Karen.  

January 5, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 4, 2016

Jimmy Carter, Nonagenarians and Health Care

In a recent Associated Press article, Jimmy Carter Shows 90+ Age Not a Barrier to Major Surgery, the writers cite several examples of successful surgeries or advanced treatments for the most senior of senior citizens.  

Irwin Weiner felt so good after heart surgery a few weeks before turning 90 that he stopped for a pastrami sandwich on the way home from the hospital. Dorothy Lipkin danced after getting a new hip at age 91. And at 94, William Gandin drives himself to the hospital for cancer treatments.

 

Jimmy Carter isn't the only nonagenarian to withstand rigorous medical treatment. Very old age is no longer an automatic barrier for aggressive therapies, from cancer care like the former president has received, to major heart procedures, joint replacements and even some organ transplants.

 

In many cases, the most senior citizens are getting the same treatments given to people their grandchildren's age — but with different goals.

 

"Many elderly patients don't necessarily want a lot of years, what they want is quality of life," said Dr. Clifford Kavinsky, a heart specialist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "They want whatever time is left for them to be high quality. They don't want to be dependent on their family. They don't want to end up in a nursing home."

The article makes the point that "some 90-year-olds" are fitter than some 60-year-olds" and that age alone should not be the deciding factor.  Indeed, in my own family we have faced major surgery questions with both my father and, more recently, my mother, and the result was a "different" decision in each instance, based on a whole host of factors.  These can be tough calls. 

January 4, 2016 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Health Care/Long Term Care, Science | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Living Wills: Do they have utility in end of life decision-making?

An article in the most recent issue of the ABA Commission on Law & AgingBIFOCAL focuses on instructional directives.  In light of CMS reimbursing doctors for end of life discussions with patients,  author Susan P. Shapiro, in The Living Will as Improvisation, suggests  "it is appropriate to reflect on the legacy of advance directives and ask how physicians might best serve their patients as they anticipate life’s end."

The author notes that

Although the value of proxy directives, which designate a medical decision maker in the event that a person loses capacity in the future, has been repeatedly demonstrated, that of instructional directives or so-called living wills, which state treatment preferences, has not. A new report by the Institute of Medicine concludes that legal approaches embodied in living wills have “been disappointingly ineffective in improving the care people nearing the end of life receive and in ensuring that this care accords with their informed preferences .... (citations omitted).

However, the author discusses the lack of hard data makes it difficult to determine whether living wills have little usefulness these days. The author turns to her own research, explaining that for 3 years she and hospital social worker

observed medical decision making on behalf of patients without decision-making capacity, day after day, from admission to discharge. Daily observations over the course of each patient’s ICU stay tracked when anyone asked about or referred to an advance directive, how the directive was used, and the correspondence between the patient’s treatment preferences articulated in the directive and the host of decisions made on their behalf....

The article discusses her findings regarding the role of advance directives in these cases .  It's quite illuminating, especially the discussion about the correlation (or lack thereof) between the directive's existence and how decisions are made.  The author suggests there are significant differences between making the directive when all is well and using the directive when all is not.    The author concludes the article with  this thought: "[a] truly directive living will is not a script, but rather an evolving, ongoing dialogue throughout the life course with those who may someday be called to improvise on our behalf. Let’s hope that Medicare dollars are used to help enrich the conversation."

December 31, 2015 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Can a health care instruction be too precise?

We have all heard stories of an elder making the family promise to never admit the elder into a nursing home.  Sometimes, however, people need that level of care, and well-meaning family members are not always able to provide the needed care.  That is part of the story of When to Ignore a Promise to ‘Never Put Me in a Home’ which ran in the New York Times on November 9, 2015. The article features an unidentified patient with a huge bedsore, who had extracted such a promise from her family.  Following that promise to the letter, the family members did their best to care for her, but despite their best efforts, complications occurred.   The doctor authoring the story explained some background

Our patient came from a poor immigrant household without much community support. For years, as she felt herself slipping, she had emphasized over and over again that she never wanted to go into a “home” or be tended by strangers. She wanted to stay at home with her children. Nothing unusual there.

What was unusual was the precision with which her children followed her wishes. As their mother became really confused, then silent, then bedbound, they continued to care for her themselves in the back bedroom.

Turning the focus of the article onto advance directives, and the pros and cons of directives, the doctor writes

[Advance directives] are supposed to give people some control over the future. More often than not, perhaps, the future refuses to be controlled.

Directives may not be detailed enough to help organize a patient’s care. They may be so detailed that doctors and relatives cannot agree on how to interpret the minutiae. Directives may be overlooked in the heat of emergency, ignored out of pure lassitude, or lost somewhere in the closet.

Or, as in our patient’s case, they may be clear and simple, and followed to the letter. And look what happened to her.

The doctor considers health care agents as a better choice, but notes the questions agents must ask principals but frequently don't: "'Do you really want me to do exactly what you are telling me to do? How much wiggle room do I get?'"  This is important for many reasons, not the least of which is what you believe and prefer when you sign your directive may not be the same when it is time to use the directive (what the author refers to as the past you and present you).

Our own patient and her family got all bolluxed up in obligations to their past selves. The bottom line was clear — the patient never would have wanted what she got. But even given that, we wondered, when should her children have changed course?

...

We had no good answers. Our patient spent a few days in the hospital and then went straight to a nursing home to finish a long course of antibiotics and, presumably, to live there for the duration.

November 24, 2015 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Ethical Issues, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 9, 2015

A Pragmatic Look at Health Care "Billing Codes" for Advance Care Planning

Professor Janet Dolgin from Hofstra University has a very good article in the October 2015 issue of ABA's The Health Lawyer on "Reimbursing Clinicians for Advance-Care Planning Consultations: The Saga of a Healthcare Reform Provision."  The article offers facts, analysis, historical perspective and opinion about the need to approve payment to health care providers in order for them to be able to engage fully with clients and their families in careful conversations about advance care planning, including end-of-life decisions.  The article is concise, but the downside for interested readers is the digital version of the article is currently behind a pay-wall for ABA Health Care Section members only. 

To stimulate your interest in tracking down a hard copy, perhaps through your law colleagues or local law libraries, here are a few highlights.  Professor Dolgin writes:

Advance care planning is part of good healthcare.  Thus, paying clinicians to talk with patients about advance care planning makes sense:  it enhances advance care planning and thereby serves to effect good healthcare.  "If end-of-life discussions were an experimental drug," writes Atul  Gawande in his recent book, Being Mortal, "the FDA would approve it." Yet efforts to provide for reimbursement to clinicians for time and attention given to advance-care-planning conversations with Medicare patients have been stymied since 2009 (at least until quite recently) by the politics of healthcare reform....

 

Published, peer-reviewed research shows that ACP [Advance Care Planning] leads to better care, higher patient and family satisfaction, fewer unwanted hospitalizations, and lower rates of caregiver distress, depression and lost productivity....

 

In July 2015 CMS accepted the recommendation [supported by AARP, the AMA and others identified in the article] and opened the proposal to [pay health care clinicians for such consultations] to a two month-comment period in its proposed physician payment schedule for 2016.... If the proposed rule is accepted by CMS, payments for advance-care planning consultations are slated to begin in early January 2016. 

The article demonstrates well the tension between the use of administrative law options to achieve what Congress finds unable or unwilling to address as a matter of Congressional laws.  Of course, administrative processes can gore the ox of either side on a politically-charged debate. 

Perhaps I am alone in being sad that it takes billing codes approved by insurance providers and CMS to achieve appropriate consultation between health care staff and families about advance decision-making.  But Professor Dolgin's article is a realistic explanation for exactly why that "is" necessary. 

November 9, 2015 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Nite of the Living Will

My friend Jim Pietsch at the U. of Hawaii elder law program offers this clever annual event for elder individuals to encourage the completion of advance directives.   The University of Hawai'i Elder Law Program (UHELP) at the William S. Richardson School of Law held its annual "NITE" OF THE "LIVING WILL" on October 29, 2015. Here is the description of the program from their website.

Deciding...”What If?”
During this daylight presentation of our annual Halloween event, the University of Hawai`i Elder Law Program will present a talk about medical treatment decision-making and advance care planning  to include  informed consent/informed refusal, individual instructions for health care, durable powers of attorney for health care, comfort care only-DNR bracelets/necklaces and Provider Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST).


You will have the opportunity to Decide What If? you are unable to communicate your wishes for end of life care. If you still have an old “Living Will” or if you are unsure of how end-of-life decisions will be made for you, come and find out how to make an advance directive or other documents that will help make sure your wishes regarding health care decisions are honored.


The public, especially kupuna, family caregivers, service providers, students and faculty are invited. Tea and little treats will be served. Donations to cover the cost of this hydration and nutrition accepted.

This is such a creative program and kudos to Jim for all of his work!

November 1, 2015 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Programs/CLEs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Friends at the End of Life

Friends are an integral part of the fabric of our lives.  Perhaps the most important time in one's life to have friends is at the end of life, according to an article in the New York Times. The article, Near the End, It's Best to be "Friended" focuses on what has become known as the "unbefriended" elders.  When we think "unbefriended", we think of someone without friends or relatives.  Maybe the person has outlived everyone. But the article offers that "unbefriended" has a much broader meaning: "you can also be unbefriended, even if you do have friends and family, if you are incapacitated and haven’t appointed someone you trust as a health care proxy."  The article cites a study that shows an increase in the number of unbefriended elders and notes the likelihood of a continued increase since the chance of dementia increases with age.

More and more patients who lacked decision-making capacity, had no available surrogates and had not completed an advance directive,” said Martin Smith, director of clinical ethics at the Cleveland Clinic.

The kinds of unrepresented elders might change, too. In the past, many were marginalized — homeless, addicted, mentally ill, estranged. Baby boomers, with higher rates of childlessness and divorce, have smaller and more mobile families, and longer life spans. “They could live a largely mainstream life, but outlive everyone around them..."

The article notes that some states have statutes giving priority order to relatives and, in some instances, others to make health care decisions for those who haven't made a directive.

Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia have added “close friend” to that list, according to the American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging; some states also include aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, and adult grandchildren. A member of the clergy can serve in that role in Texas. The wider the net, the reasoning goes, the greater the likelihood of finding someone authorized to make decisions. Legalized same-sex marriages also mean fewer unrepresented gay and lesbian older adults.

This is an interesting article that provides good content for discussion with students about the importance of advance directives, and the potential for problems without them.

October 29, 2015 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Health Poll September 2015

The Kaiser Health Network September, 2015 tracking poll  tackled several issues. The one I was most interested in was the results on the public's view of end of life care.

As the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services prepares to finalize a plan to pay physicians for discussing end-of-life treatment options with Medicare patients, this month’s Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds that about 8 in 10 of the public favors Medicare and private insurance covering such discussions and about 9 in 10 say doctors should have these discussions with their patients. However, relatively few (17 percent) say they’ve had such discussions with a doctor or other health care provider, including 27 percent of people age 65 or older, while half of the public says they would want to have such a discussion. Over 8 in 10 say they would feel very comfortable talking about their end-of-life medical wishes with their spouse or partner and closer to half say they would be very comfortable talking with a doctor, their children, their close friends or their parents....

The detailed discussion of the poll results provides interesting statistics. Consider the following:

About 9 in 10 (89 percent) say doctors should discuss end-of-life care issues with their patients. But, relatively few (17 percent) say they’ve had such discussions with a doctor or other health care provider, including 34 percent of people age 75 or more, 23 percent of people age 65-74, 19 percent of those age 50-64 and 12 percent of those age 18-49. In addition, those who report having a debilitating disability or chronic condition are more likely to say they have discussed their end-of-life care wishes with a health care provider than those without a disability (31 percent vs. 13 percent). A third of the public says they have participated in a discussion with a doctor about another family member’s wishes about their care at the end of life, including 46 percent of those ages 50-64. Across age groups, many say they would want to have such a discussion about their own end-of-life care (50 percent overall).

The full poll results are available here.

 

October 28, 2015 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Current Affairs, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

LTC & Dementia-Start Saving Now.

USA Today ran an article on October 15, 2015 about the cost of long term care for individuals with dementia, especially those with Alzheimer's. The estimated price tag?  Almost three quarters of a million dollars! Got $730K saved for nursing care? Dementia could cost that much notes that a person with dementia needing long term care could live for several years, needing round the clock care,the cost of that care mounts up and "leav[es] families in an emotional, financial and logistical quagmire."

This is a growing issue and one that will affect many. "Boomers are increasingly faced with supporting both their children and their parents, or at least helping to figure out how their parents can best help themselves. Senior citizens with heart disease and cancers that were once a death sentence are now living far longer."

The article discusses Medicare and Medicaid as far as coverage for long term care and the differences in Medicaid programs amongst states.

October 21, 2015 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Cognitive Impairment, Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (1)