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1 in 5 ICU Patients Get 'Futile' Care

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, September 10, 2013

A report from researchers at UCLA is intended to be a wake-up call about the use of medical technologies and tools that if not appropriately applied, "end up extending the dying process, not benefiting the patient in the ICU bed."

UCLA critical care specialists say 11% of 1,136 patients under their care in five intensive care units received aggressive treatment the doctors considered futile, at a cost of $2.6 million for three months, and another 8.6% were "probably" receiving futile care.

That account is in a report by researchers at Ronald Reagan UCLA and UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica published Monday in the JAMA Internal Medicine.


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The care was not considered futile when these patients were first admitted, "but after the intensive care treatment didn't work, it became clear they weren't going to benefit from this level of care," explains senior author Neil S. Wenger, MD, who directs the UCLA Healthcare Ethics Center.

Wenger says that the report is "intended to be a wake-up call for everyone [who says] that medicine has amazing tools. Medicine is able to rescue people that would have died. But those tools need to be appropriately applied, and if not appropriately applied, you end up extending the dying process, not benefiting the patient in the ICU bed, probably not benefitting the family, and using resources that probably could be better used elsewhere."

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