Saturday, March 20, 2010

The ER and Cancer Patients.

Suzana Markowski has a new post at Pallimed about emergency room use and cancer. Her post looks at a new study of ER visits and examines ways to better treat end of life issues. Here's a clip:

We know already that most people want to be at home with family at the end-of-life, we also know that most end up in hospital or institution. We have hypothesized that increasing access and enrollment to hospices might help people meet this goal. This article seeks to understand how frequently and why patients with end-stage cancer choose to go to the ER.

So this begs the question… what percentage of patients with cancer visit the emergency room during the last 6 months and 2 weeks of life?
Of the 91,561 patients who died of cancer between 2002 and 2005, 84% of patients visited the ER in the 6 months prior to death and 34% of patients visited in the last two weeks before death. They outline the principle reasons for emergency room visits: primary cancer (mostly lung cancer), uncontrolled symptoms (pain, dyspnea and other non-pain symptoms), caregiver fatigue, and infection.
Top reasons for ER visits among patients with cancer:

While many of the patients studied ended up admitted to hospital, the authors – and I believe, rightly so – postulate that most may have avoided acute-level care had the quality and quantity of care had adequately supported the needs of both patient and caregiver. Instead of emergency room care, most of these patients required “either additional support to remain at home or direct transfer to a palliative care unit or residential hospice.”

Barbera and colleagues suggest that “comprehensive and coordinated” palliative care could serve the needs of most of these patients and their caregivers and meet this demand for quality and quantity of care, allowing patients to have symptoms tended to at home, in clinics, or in in-patient or residential hospice facilities.

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