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Aggressive Care for Dying Cancer Patients Futile, Study Finds

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, November 17, 2010

"You have a patient who is not doing well with the disease, who is debilitated—these patients are very sick, anemic, with abnormalities in white blood cells. They have to spend time in the hospital and the ICU; they are more likely to have IVs and feeding tubes, and all these with the chance of infection. And now we're giving them chemotherapy."

Nancy Foster, vice president for quality and patient safety with the American Hospital Association, said studies like the Dartmouth Atlas Project's "help shine a light on the importance of end-of-life care." Unfortunately, she said, "hospice care is not readily available in all parts of the United States.  

The delivery of hospice care requires both trained palliative care physicians and a hospice organization, and, as noted on the Center to Advance Palliative Care, there are both too few trained clinicians and too few hospice organizations to meet the need for hospice care."  She says public policy needs to be changed.

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization applauded the report but said it was not necessarily a surprise. "One of the key messages that I take away from this report is the critical need for hospitals and all healthcare professionals to ensure that all patients are informed earlier about the course of an illness and the range of options available—options that include hospice and palliative care," said J. Donald Schumacher, NHPCO president and CEO.

Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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