“The more hospital medicine training gets incorporated into internal medicine residency,” says Dr. Epstein, “the greater the opportunity to train new hospitalists to have these difficult conversations: how to have a family meeting, to identify the issues, to see if there are any ethical issues involved, any legal issues, and how to negotiate a reasonable plan of care based on the patient’s goals.”2,8,21
In addition to helping with control of physical symptoms, such as pain and nausea control, physicians facilitate decision-making. “We try to address a lot of the existential and reconciliation and legacy issues,” says Dr. Chittenden. Because of the number of situations in which the patient is a woman or man in their 40s or 50s who have young children, she says, “we help the parents come to terms with this and get our child-life specialist involved to help the parents think about how to talk with the kids.”
Because of the growth of the palliative care movement, the training is beginning to improve. “The LCME [Liaison Committee on Medical Education], the licensure group for medical schools, mandates that there be some end-of-life care exposure,” says Dr. Chittenden. “And the ACGME [Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education], which licenses the residency programs, strongly suggests that there be opportunities to learn about this. … Slowly but surely we are realizing this needs to happen, but we are far from doing it well.”
What would be ideal? A two-week rotation for residents in a palliative care service? “That would be wonderful,” says Dr. Epstein. “As more palliative care services pop up across the country, the chance of that happening would increase. … And even if you’re not in palliative care and you’re a hospitalist and you do these kinds of things well, the residents should be watching you have those kinds of conversations.”
Explaining that he is paraphrasing Mark Leenay, MD, the former program director at Fairview-University, Minnesota, and the physician who spearheaded the development of a clinical team that comprehensively addresses the multiple aspects of suffering from life-threatening illness, Dr. Epstein says: “I can train anybody to do symptom management in hospice, but how to walk into a room and understand … and negotiate the family dynamics and the patient’s plan of care … to communicate on different levels with different people with … their own agendas, and all the pieces of information … [and different interpretations] … to take it all in and digest it for that meeting and spit it out in a way [in which] everyone can relate and come to some sort of consensus, hopefully, at the end of the meeting? That’s the art. And that takes practice.”
Patients with life-threatening chronic illnesses are often admitted to the hospital multiple times in the course of the period that could be considered the end of life. Important nonmedical issues for hospitalists to address at each new admission include communication regarding prognosis and advance care planning, and addressing existential issues greatly contributes to the quality of care. TH
- The Hastings Center is involved in bioethics and other issues surrounding end-of-life care (www.thehastingscenter.org/default.asp). The Special Report listed in “References” is downloadable from their Web site.23
- Education in Palliative and End-of-Life Care (EPEC) curriculum (www.epec.net).
- The American Board of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (www.abhpm.org).
- The American Association of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (www.aahpm.org).
- Harvard’s Center for Palliative Care offers courses that emphasize teaching (www.hms.harvard.edu/cdi/pallcare/).
- The Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC), Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, serves as a resource for hospital-based palliative care program development. CAPC supports six regional Palliative Care Leadership Centers (www.capc.org).