Advance care directives, palliative care, and euthanasia

respect

[Image by Nick Youngson]

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

Palace of Care – Que sera, sera

Whatever will be, will be.

He tells me, with a tear in his eye, “She’s my sweetheart.”

She smiles weakly, and her eyes brighten.

He gently kisses her hand in a loving manner.

“No, I am ready.”

“Are you scared?”

“I think I’m dying.”

Continue reading

Palace of Care – “Thank you for teaching me an important lesson.”

This blogpost is dedicated to a patient that I never thanked for the part she had to play in my palliative care education.

The sharing of patient stories can have a huge role to play in the education of healthcare practitioners and laypeople. Palliative Care health literacy remains relatively low despite palliative care services having been present in Australia and New Zealand for well over three decades. Relatively few healthcare practitioners let alone members of the general public understand the role that palliative care services can have in the improvement of quality of life. Are we sharing the right stories, in the right places, to the right people?

Continue reading

Raise awareness for World #Delirium Day 15 March 2017

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Delirium is a favourite topic of ours at Palliverse – it is experienced by many people with palliative care needs, including at the end of life, and is often distressing to the person, their loved ones and health professionals providing care. Despite this, it remains poorly recognised, underdiagnosed and poorly treated – not least because the evidence base is still growing.

iDelirium, a federation of the Australasian Delirium Association, European Delirium Association and American Delirium Association, has launched World Delirium Day (#WDD2017) in an attempt to raise awareness of delirium and improve its management.

They have suggested some Actions to Take on #WDD2017. I’ve listed them below & with some thoughts on how to take action.

  • Commit to using the term ‘delirium’

If you hear someone using terms like “agitated”, “restless”, “aggressive” or “pleasantly confused”, think – could this be delirium? I use the term delirium, document it and make sure it’s communicated in the medical record and letters. Recognising and diagnosing delirium allows us to educate patients and their loved ones, as well as providing the best delirium care possible.

  • Screen your patients for delirium

People at risk of delirium, who should be screened, include those with serious illness, those aged over 65 years and those with underlying cognitive impairment. This includes many of the people cared for by palliative care services! The diagnosis of delirium may be missed, delayed or misdiagnosed without screening, as signs may be subtle (especially in hypoactive delirium).  There are multiple simple bedside screening tests for delirium, and although not all these have been validated in the specialist palliative care setting, they are still useful. The 4AT is a freely available screening tool that can be administered by any health professional and does not require training.

  • Listen to patient and family stories about the experience of delirium

What may seem “pleasantly confused” to staff members can be very distressing for the delirious person and their families. Being agitated, aggressive or “just not themselves” can be distressing for patients and families to witness – it is important to acknowledge these emotions and provide education about delirium. (See “Michael’s Story: the fear on his face was palpable” for a wife’s experience of her husband’s undiagnosed delirium.)

  • Engage your leadership in a discussion of delirium

If the above isn’t enough to convince your leadership to take note, delirium also increases the risk of health care complications like falls, pressure injuries, prolonged length of stay, and mortality. For those in Australia, World Delirium Day is a great time to introduce your leadership to the recently released Delirium Clinical Care Standard (which we’ve covered here before).

  • Educate health professionals about delirium

Delirium does not “belong” to just one group of health professionals or one specialty. It’s common, especially in palliative care, and important for us all to know about it.  Some of my favourite educational resources are freely available at the Scottish Delirium Association, plus this 5-minute video from UK-based  Delirium Champion Dr MS Krishnan. (I’ve shared this before but it’s worth sharing again!)

As a final bid to raise awareness, you can participate in a #WDD2017 Thunderclap via your Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr account, to alert your friends and followers to the importance of delirium.

Palliative care and quality of life

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The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. The goal of health care is therefore not just to treat disease and extend quantity of life, but to also promote overall wellbeing and enhance quality of life.

But what exactly is quality of life?

According to the WHO, quality of life is “an individual’s perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns”. It is affected by their “physical health, psychological state, personal beliefs, social relationships and their relationship to salient features of their environment”.

A bit of a mouthful for sure. But the bottom line here is that while a person’s quality of life is affected by their health, it is about more than just their health. A person’s quality of life depends on what is important to them, where they have come from, and where they are going. In other words: what constitutes quality of life for an individual is defined by who they are.

What does all of this have to do with palliative care?

Palliative care is all about quality of life. Back to the WHO: “Palliative care is an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness”.

For many people, quality of life is just as important as quantity of life. For some, quality is more important quantity – particularly if their quantity of life is limited by incurable and/or life-threatening illnesses.

How does palliative care improve a person’s quality of life? The WHO definition suggests that it does so “through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual.”

However, the prevention and relief of suffering is merely the opening gambit of the palliative care approach. Alleviating suffering is a prerequisite to improving quality of life, but it is not sufficient on its own. In order to help patients and families live as well as possible, palliative care must also promote psychological, social and spiritual wellbeing.

This is only possible if palliative care clinicians are more than symptomologists or scientists-technicians. They must also be brave witnesses and loyal companions. “Don’t just do something, stand there.” And listen, with our hearts as well as our brains, as fellow human beings, sharing the human condition, travelling together along the journey of life.

To summarise: palliative care starts by seeking to find out what is the cause of a person’s suffering, but goes beyond this by striving to know who is the person suffering, in order to ultimately discover how to improve their quality of life, and help them to live as well as possible.

Journal club on delirium #hpmjc

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Delirium is a syndrome associated with a sudden change in a person’s mental function that interferes with their thinking and awareness. It is a common problem that confronts many patients, families and clinicians in the palliative care setting. Delirium usually develops as a result of a serious medical condition, which can often be found and treated. However, the symptoms of delirium – such as fluctuating confusion, reduced attention, disturbed sleep-wake cycle, and/or hallucinations – can be very distressing for everyone involved, and may persist for many days to weeks.

Medications – including antipsychotics such as haloperidol and risperidone – are often used to manage the symptoms of delirium. But do they actually work?

To answer this question, Professor Meera Agar (@meera_agar) and colleagues from the Palliative Care Clinical Studies Collaborative (PaCCSC) conducted a study examining the use of these medications. The results of their research was published in JAMA Internal Medicine recently, and also discussed on various media platforms (examples here, here and here).

Please join Hospice and Palliative Medicine Journal Club (#hpmjc) in January 2017 for an in-depth discussion about this important study. The journal club will be hosted by Chi Li (@Dr_Chi_Li) from Palliverse and feature the paper’s first author, Meera Agar (@meera_agar)!

When? The hour-long online journal club will start at (please note the different dates):

  • Auckland: 9am, Tuesday 24th January
  • Sydney: 7am, Tuesday 24th January
  • London: 8pm, Monday 23rd January
  • New York / Toronto: 3pm, Monday 23rd January
  • Other cities

Who? Anyone and everyone who has:

  • Experienced delirium themselves
  • Cared for or lived with someone with delirium
  • An interest in improving the treatment of delirium
  • An interest in enhancing palliative care

How? It’s easy!

What? We will be discussing the following topics during the journal club

  • Topic 1: Why was the study conducted? Are the study questions / aims relevant to you and/or your work?
  • Topic 2: How was the study conducted? What did you like about the study methodology? Would you have done anything differently?
  • Topic 3: What were the main findings from the study? Were you surprised by any of the study results?
  • Topic 4: Has this study changed the way you think about delirium in the palliative care setting? Why and why not? What’s next?

If you would like more information, or are having trouble accessing the paper, please feel free to contact us via Twitter (@Dr_Chi_Li or @palliverse) or by email (chi.li.australia@gmail.com or palliverse@gmail.com).

We hope you can join us for a great discussion about this important study!

 

free Australian webinars on advance care planning and palliative care

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Decision Assist is running a series of free webinars on advance care planning and palliative care.

For those of you new to webinars, you can watch the presentation live on the internet and interact with the presenters, or just watch the presentation later. Some health services and aged care facilities are watching them together as part of their continuing professional development or education programs.

Here is a link to register. The next one is presented by Ilsa Hampton, CEO, Meaningful Ageing Australia

Decision Assist Aged Care Webinar Series – Grief, trauma and loss
Tuesday 6 December 2016 | 1.30 pm – 2.15 pm AEDT

http://www.webcasts.com.au/decisionassist061216/

Regards, Sonia (who also works for Decision Assist!)

 

Calling palliative care health professionals for online research experiment – now open worldwide!

If you could only admit one patient to your service today but you have many referrals, which patient would you choose?

FloorBoss XL™ Free-Standing Sign - High-Impact Plastic 25in.H x 12in.W

Palliative Care is in urgent need of a robust and evidence-based system for triaging referrals in an equitable, efficient and transparent manner. If you are a health professional working primarily in palliative care anywhere in the world with at least two years of experience, we want to know your views!

Please take part in this world-first online experiment at  www.tinyurl.com/palliativetriage or for more information contact Dr Beth Russell by email beth.russell@svha.org.au or twitter @DrBethRussell

#4APCRC: 4th Australian Palliative Care Research Colloquium

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Members of team Palliverse had the pleasure of attending the 4th Australian Palliative Care Research Colloquium between October 27-28th, which was once again held in the comfortable surroundings of the Rendezvous Hotel in Melbourne, Victoria.  Continue reading

THE 5TH VITAL SIGN: PREVENTION AND MANAGEMENT OF ACUTE AND CHRONIC PAIN WORKSHOP

Palliative doctors and trainees and those interested in pain management might want to check out the upcoming pain management workshop at the shiny new Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre.

“This workshop is ideally suited to general practitioners, perioperative physicians, anaesthetists and pain specialists who seek an update on evidence-based management of acute pain in the perioperative setting. We will also highlight the latest research aimed at reducing the transition of acute pain to subacute and chronic pain and its associated morbidity.”

For more information see here 

Saturday, November 12th 2016

Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre,
Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre,
Melbourne