An open letter to Victorians on #PalliativeCare #VAD #euthanasia

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PC clinician open letter Final

immunotherapy and the miracle cure

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?

Sonia

 

 

Stop the horror(ible misrepresentation)

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.

I think therefore I am? – A definition of Grace

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http://www.flickr.com/photos/144232185@N03/30117339256″>PARMIGIANINO,1534-35 – Deux Canéphores se donnant la Main (Louvre INV6466)

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.

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Palace of Care – Living every moment

Living every moment when you’re dying

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In New Zealand last week we celebrated Hospice Awareness Weak and to tell you the truth I’m not sure how impactful the week actually was. Continue reading

Delirium update at #ANZSPM17 Update

delirium @#ANZSPM17

We think delirium is a pretty big deal here at Palliverse, having devoted quite a few blog posts over the years to discussing this important issue in palliative care.

Well, delirium will be the focus of the first session at the upcoming 4th Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine (ANZSPM) Medical & Surgical Update for Palliative Medicine (#ANZSPM17), which will be held between June 23-24th at the Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, Australia.

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.

Of course, delirium is just one of the many great topics that will be examined in detail during the fourth iteration of this biennial meeting. To find out more about the #ANZSPM17 Update, and to take advantage of the early bird registration rate until May 24th, go to: https://willorganise.eventsair.com/QuickEventWebsitePortal/2017-anzspm-update/update

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Advance care directives, palliative care, and euthanasia

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[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.”

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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?

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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.