Despite being a Melburnian, I must admit that Sydney really is an irresistibly beautiful city when the sun comes out, especially by the water. The 44th Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) Annual Scientific Meeting was held in the newly renovated International Convention Centre in Sydney between 12-15th November 2017. With the sunlight streaming in through its many windows, reflecting off the waters of Darling Harbour, it really was the perfect place to be at the beginning of summer.
I attended the pre-conference workshop on cancer supportive care, which was organised by Judith Lacey, a palliative medicine specialist at Chris O’Brien LIfehouse. The whole-day workshop featured an interesting mixture of passionate speakers promoting a range of complementary treatments including medicinal cannabis, massage and probiotics; alongside others examining the evidence base for acupuncture, reviewing current clinical trials and prescribing pathways, and comparing different funding models for supportive care. It was a long but worthwhile day that set the mood for the rest of the conference. Continue reading →
I have to confess I am a fan of the New Zealand health system from across the ditch. Sensible spending. strong palliative care health service connections… am I wrong Bro?
This article has not succeeded in reversing my bias in favour of New Zealand.
Palliative data nerds will no doubt recall this fascinating study in Scotland by Professor Clark et al. Published in Palliative Medicine, and quickly attaining the journal’s highest-ever Altmetrics score (1) , Clark showed that among 10,743 inpatients in 25 Scottish teaching and general hospitals on 31 March 2010, 3,098 (28.8%) patients died during the one-year follow-up period. The findings were replicated in 2013 with similar results.
The study by the fabulous Professor Merryn Gott et al showed that on the same date, the corresponding figure in New Zealand (including obstetrics) was about half at 14.5%. Patients at higher risk of dying were the elderly of over 80 years of age, Maori, those with cancer, those from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, and those admitted under medical specialties rather than surgical.
New Zealand seems to provide better end of life care outside the hospital setting, with stronger end-of-life care in the aged care setting. This has certainly been a focus for service development in Australia as well.
How would we rate in Australia I wonder?
I would love to hear from international colleagues
Another insightful article from Dr Ranjana Sriastava, a Melbourne medical oncologist and writer, encapsulates my recent experience as a palliative care doctor on the frontline between hope and dying in a cancer centre.
The anticipated miracles of cancers dissolving before our eyes are common enough for patients and doctors to push on with expensive, sometimes self-funded treatment (at great cost) in preference to the needed preparation by patient and family for dying. For a patient and family perspective, skip down to the comments after the article and read HugiHugo’s description of his wife’s last months while undergoing treatment.
A patient with widely disseminated and aggressive melanoma having immunotherapy grunted at me in frustration last month. “Listen,” he said, “they are all high-fiving over there in the oncology clinic. Why do you want to talk about end of life stuff? It’s really confusing.” Pretty appalled at the idea that we were giving the patient mixed messages, I was fortunate to be able to do a joint consultation with the patient’s medical oncologist to nut out our different perceptions. Unfortunately for the patient, his oncologist confirmed that the treatment was very unlikely to be a miracle and most patients in his situation would live less than a year. To say that the patient was shocked was an understatement. Had he not been referred to my team for symptom management, this conversation would have happened later – or never.
Evidence is emerging that outcomes of immunotherapy in patients with poor performance status are very unimpressive. Patients with poor performance status had been excluded from initial trials.
Where does the deficit in our communication of hope lie? Is it in the delivery by the doctor? The reception by the patient? A bit of both? How can we accurately respond to the portrayal of immunotherapy in the media and social media as a miracle cure, and allow for the possibility of benefit without downplaying the risks?
This short film released this week tells an awful story of a man and his family that is apparently based on true events. It is clear from the film that the man did NOT receive the best palliative care currently available.
The film concludes with a statement that people like the man depicted die in awful ways “[d]espite the best available palliative care”. This statement is at odds with the film, which depicts him NOT receiving “the best available palliative care”.
Why did the poor man NOT receive “the best available palliative care”? The film does not tell us why. The statement at the conclusion of the film does not tell us why. We are left to wonder why this poor man and his family did NOT receive “the best available palliative care” for their suffering.
This film is a powerful depiction of the suffering experienced by patients and their families when they do NOT receive “the best available palliative care”. This film about suffering and suboptimal palliative care should lead us to demand better access to “the best available palliative care” from our politicians.
You can watch the R-rated (suitable for persons aged 18 years and over) film here.
In healthcare it is important to set clear boundaries in order to care for yourself and your patients in a sustainable fashion. In the practice of palliative care, boundary setting is even more important, as the therapeutic relationship can be very intense and intimate at times. We have to keep in mind that this relationship will likely end soon, with the death of our patient. It can be a difficult balancing act; using your humanity to make important connections with another human being; while at the same time keeping professional distance to protect the both of you.
That being said, it is inevitable that there will be some cases which will hit you harder than others. When a deeper connection has been made, you will feel the loss and grief much more strongly. Informal reflection with your team members and professional supervision have an important role to play in keeping us palliative care providers safe to continue doing the important job that we have to do. We need to remind ourselves that this is a job that not everyone in healthcare can handle. That those of us who chose to work in palliative care, owe it to ourselves and our patients to look after ourselves. We are a precious resource and if we do not take care of ourselves, we will deny our patients and their families the difference that we can make in their lives, and deaths.
After almost ten years of working exclusively in full-time palliative care practice I would like to share a case that reminded me of just how human I am, and how much value I obtain from professional supervision and from sharing with my team members.
Chaired by @Meera_Agar – the lead author of the seminal paper examining the role of antipsychotics in the management of delirium symptoms in the palliative care setting, which was published in JAMA Internal Medicine earlier this year – the session will feature presentations from Professor Agar, as well as:
Dr Simon Allan, palliative care physician, Director of Palliative Care at Arohanui Hospice in New Zealand and the current President of the Australasian Chapter of Palliative Medicine, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians,
Dr Chris Moran, geriatrician from Alfred Health and research fellow at Monash University, and
Dr Justin Dwyer, psychiatrist and Medical Director of the Psychosocial Cancer Care service at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne.
After the presentations, a panel discussion involving the speakers will offer the audience plenty of opportunities to further explore this hot topic in palliative care.
Why do palliative care people bang on about advance care planning all the time?
Well, when you break it all down, advance care planning is all about respect. Respecting the values, goals and preferences of the person making the plan. And palliative care is really big on respecting people’s preferences and values, especially when it comes to their end-of-life care.
Unfortunately, when it comes to respecting people’s choices around their health care, the law has been lagging behind. Existing laws around advance care plans and medical decision making are often confusing for patients and families, as well as their treating clinicians. Fortunately, this is all about to change in Victoria. Continue reading →