Ill, older patients who rely on emergency room often live final days in hospital, study finds

June 4, 2012

Half of adults over age 65 made at least one emergency department (ED) visit in the last month of life, in a study led by a physician at the San Francisco VA Medical Center (SFVAMC) and UCSF.

Three quarters of ED visits led to , and more than two-thirds of those admitted to the hospital died there.

In contrast, the 10 percent of study subjects who had enrolled in hospice care at least one month before death were much less likely to have made an ED visit or died in the hospital.

"For too many older Americans, the is a conduit to hospital admission and death in the hospital," said lead author Alexander K. Smith, MD, MS, MPH, a doctor at SFVAMC and an assistant professor of medicine in the Division of at UCSF.

The study, published in the June issue of , was based on an analysis of of 4,518 people age 65 and older who died while enrolled in the Health and Retirement Study, an ongoing nationally representative of health, retirement and aging sponsored by the National Institute on Aging.

"Unfortunately, the emergency department is not an ideal setting for patients nearing the end of life," observed Smith. "Aside from the fact that most patients prefer to die at home, ED visits can be incredibly expensive for patients and families, and contribute significantly to the high costs of care at the end of life."

In addition, he noted, "the traditional focus of the ED is stabilization and triage, not end-of-life care, while hospice provides care specifically for patients with a prognosis of six months of life or less."

Smith explained that hospice care, which is free to everyone enrolled in Medicare, is centered on the treatment and relief of symptoms that are common near the end of life, such as pain, nausea, and confusion. "These are quite often the symptoms that lead patients who are not in hospice care to visit the ED," he said.

The majority of hospice care is provided in the patient's home.

"The interdisciplinary hospice care team is very skilled at providing relief from other forms of suffering as well, such as spiritual and psychological pain," said Smith. "They also provide bereavement support for families before and after death."

To encourage timely enrollment in , the study authors recommended that governments, health care systems and insurers institute policies that encourage physicians to discuss end-of-life care with patients and their families, including reimbursement for advance care planning.

Smith also noted that even if more patients and families make earlier preparations for end-of-life care, "some patients will still end up in the emergency department near the end of life." To cope with that eventuality, he said, "we need to encourage policies that will make the ED a place where patients can receive the kind of care they need, such as better care of pain, nausea and other symptoms." He suggested that a "palliative care pathway" could be created to meet the needs of patients who go to the ED seeking relief from suffering.

Explore further: End of life care for cancer patients differs in US and Canada

Related Stories

End of life care for cancer patients differs in US and Canada

May 18, 2011
In the United States, older patients with advanced lung cancer make much less use of hospital and emergency room services at the end of life than their counterparts in Ontario but use far more chemotherapy, according to a ...

Hospice improves care for dementia patients and their families

July 29, 2011
Hospice services substantially improved the provision of care and support for nursing home patients dying of dementia and their families, according to an analysis of survey responses from hundreds of bereaved family members. ...

Recommended for you

Breathing dirty air may harm kidneys, study finds

September 21, 2017
Outdoor air pollution has long been linked to major health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A new study now adds kidney disease to the list, according to ...

Excess dietary manganese promotes staph heart infection

September 21, 2017
Too much dietary manganese—an essential trace mineral found in leafy green vegetables, fruits and nuts—promotes infection of the heart by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus ("staph").

Being active saves lives whether a gym workout, walking to work or washing the floor

September 21, 2017
Physical activity of any kind can prevent heart disease and death, says a large international study involving more than 130,000 people from 17 countries published this week in The Lancet.

Frequent blood donations safe for some, but not all

September 21, 2017
(HealthDay)—Some people may safely donate blood as often as every eight weeks—but that may not be a healthy choice for all, a new study suggests.

Higher manganese levels in children correlate with lower IQ scores, study finds

September 21, 2017
A study led by environmental health researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine finds that children in East Liverpool, Ohio with higher levels of Manganese (Mn) had lower IQ scores. The research appears ...

Higher levels of fluoride in pregnant woman linked to lower intelligence in their children

September 20, 2017
Fluoride in the urine of pregnant women shows a correlation with lower measures of intelligence in their children, according to University of Toronto researchers who conducted the first study of its kind and size to examine ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.