Conference Coverage

Opportunities missed for advance care planning for elderly ICU patients



– A nationally representative survey of ICU patients older than age 65 years shows an improvement over time in the frequency of advance care planning (ACP), but one in four have no ACP; the problem is more pronounced among some blacks and Hispanics and those with lower net worth. The study also found that these patients see physicians an average of 20 times in the year preceding the ICU visit, which suggests that there are plenty of opportunities to put ACP in place.

ICU monitor, showing values for cardiac frequency, O2 saturation, arterial pressure, CO2ef, FRva and pulse. marcosmartinezromero/iStockphoto

“Over two-thirds were seen by a doctor in the last 2 weeks. So they’re seeing doctors, but they’re still not doing advance care planning,” said Brian Block, MD, during a presentation of the study at the Critical Care Congress sponsored by the Society of Critical Care Medicine. Dr. Block is with the University of California, San Francisco.

Lack of advance planning can put major road blocks in front of patient care in the ICU, as well as complicate communication between physicians and family members. The findings underscore the need to encourage conversations about end-of-life care between physicians and their patients – before the patients wind up in intensive care.

One audience member believes these conversations are already happening. Paul Yodice, MD, chairman of medicine at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J., suggested that physicians are attempting to engage older patients and family members in ACP, but many are unready to make decisions. “In my experience, it is happening much more frequently than is captured either in the medical record or in the research that we’ve been publishing. I’ve been a part of those conversations. Those individuals who are faced with those toughest of choices choose to delay making the decision or speaking about it further because it’s just too painful to consider, and they hold out hope of being the one to beat the odds, to have one more day,” said Dr. Yodice.

He called for further research to document whether ACP conversations are happening and to identify barriers to decisions and the means to overcome them. “A next good study would be to send out a respectful survey to the families of those who have lost people they love and ask: Has someone in the past year spoken with you or offered to have a discussion about end-of-life issues? We could get a better handle on [how often] the discussion is being had, and then find a solution,” said Dr. Yodice.

ACP can also be difficult for the provider, he added. Family members and patients, desperate for another treatment option, will often ask if there’s anything else that can be done. “In medicine, the answer almost always is ‘Well, we can try something else even though I know it’s not going to work.’ And people hold on to that, including us,” said Dr. Yodice.

The study analyzed data from a Medicare cohort of 1,109 patients who died during 2000-2013 and had an ICU admission within the last 30 days of their life. Ages were fairly evenly distributed, with 29% aged 65-74 years, 39% aged 75-84, and 32% aged 85 and over. Fifty-four percent were women, 26% were nonwhite, 42% had not completed high school, and 11% were in skilled nursing facilities.

About 35% had no ACP in 2000-2001, and that percentage gradually declined, to about 20% in 2012-2013 (slope, –1.6%/year; P = .009).

Seventeen percent of white participants had no ACP, compared with 51% of blacks and 49% of Hispanics. Net worth was also strongly associated with having ACP: The top quartile had 13% lacking ACP, compared with 43% of the bottom quartile.

The study found that 94% of patients who had no ACP had visited a health care provider in the past year. The average number of visits in the past year was 20, and 83% had seen a provider within the past 30 days.

Dr. Block did not declare a source of funding or potential conflicts. Dr. Yodice had no disclosures.

SOURCE: Block B et al. CCC48, Abstract 401.

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