May 7, 2013
Waiting for medical records “after discharge” is of no help.
Reviewing medical records in the hospital allows the patient and/or a surrogate decision maker to obtain the greatest amount of information pos...
March 24, 2013
The determination of a patient’s capacity to make decisions is based upon her understanding of her disease or illness and the risks and benefits of treatment. If she is unable to articulate a clear understanding it may be determined that she lacks the necessary capacity to make her own decision and is further taken out of the loop of information and adequate and legitimate updates on her condition. Concomitantly, surrogate decision makers are not always available to see the treating physicians and consults, and often get a cursory explanation of the patient’s condition.
Physicians remain exceedingly reluctant to confront the difficult subject of end of life care. The New York times, on January 11, 2009 published an article, by Denise Grady, - “Facing End-of-Life Talks, Doctors Choose to Wait.” Discussing a survey of 4,074 doctors who took care of cancer patients, who had only four to six months left, but was still feeling well. 65 percent said they would talk about the prognosis, but wait to discuss end of life preferences.
67%: Making sure family is not burdened financially by my care
66%: Being comfortable and without pain
61%: Being at peace spiritually
60%: Making sure family is not burdened by tough decisions about my care
60%: Having loved ones around me
58%: Being able to pay for the care I need
57%: Making sure my wishes for medical care are followed
55%: Not feeling alone
44%: Having doctors and nurses who will respect my cultural beliefs and values
36%: Living as long as possible
33%: Being at home
32%: Having a close relationship with my doctor
As time progresses and severity of illness increases, being able to say what she – the patient - actually wants is of paramount importance. Respecting person’s wishes is both ethically required and legally mandated because we recognize that each of us is owed the respect to decide what is done to our bodies, how we wish to live. These human rights are not relinquished when sever illness must be faced. The need to provide timely information to the patient must not be ignored. If the determination of the true wishes of the patient are, in fact paramount in decision making than the earlier information is provided then there is a greater probability of knowing – with confidence – the wishes and decisions of the patient. Moreover, be speaking early the patient has the opportunity to ask questions of her physicians that she deems important. All this is lost by waiting. When a patient loses capacity the physicians are forced to turn to the surrogate decision maker who may be reluctant to express the wishes of the patient or unable to face the harsh realities of the situation and delay decisions.
1 A surrogate cannot be permitted to cause a delay in decision making which will harm the patient by causing unnecessary suffering and costly delays.
2 If a surrogate cannot or will not be fully informed and understand the diagnosis and prognosis, he or she may not continue as surrogate
3 If a surrogate cannot or will not decide – find a new surrogate, or move to a best interest standard.
Often the surrogate is a family member suffering from fear and grief, often at odds with the views of other family members and friends. There is an understandable empathy for people in this position and the desire to help them through such a hard time in their lives is great. Yet, it is not the job of a physician or nurse or bioethicist to become involved with the surrogate to the point that the surrogate’s feelings seem more important than the need to uncover by the most reliable means possible under the circumstances to know the true perspective and intentions of the patient.
It must be of crucial importance to maintain focus on the patient’s wishes and not see the surrogate and family as a filter or as an easier method to arrive at a decision. The surrogate must make a decision, not based on a consensus of the family or the advice of the doctor or nurse, but on the best and clearest representation of the wishes of the patient.
From "Waiting for Godot" Samuel Beckett
Let's wait till we know exactly how we stand.
On the other hand it might be better to strike the iron before it freezes.
I'm curious to hear what he has to offer. Then we'll take it or leave it.
What exactly did we ask him for?
Were you not there?
I can't have been listening.
Oh . . . Nothing very definite.
A kind of prayer.
A vague supplication.
And what did he reply?
That he'd see.
That he couldn't promise anything.
That he'd have to think it over.
In the quiet of his home.
Consult his family.
His bank account.
Before taking a decision.
It's the normal thing.
Is it not?
I think it is.
I think so too.
March 11, 2013
“Be a good girl and take your medicine.” Part 1
This statement was made to a 60 year old end stage leukemia patient who demanded to be discharged from the hospital. The patient refused the prescribed medications. No attempt was made to discuss the risks attendant in not taking the prescribed medication. The patient was cogent and articulate - able to make medical decisions for herself. The physician walked out of the patient’s room in the ICU. No social worker, bioethicist had been called to assist. Patient Jane was merely told, “Be a good girl and take your medicine.”
What can we say about the physician who made this statement? One might speculate that perhaps the physician was elderly – old school, etc. He was not. Early forties, well trained, and well respected. Could it be a socioeconomic impasse in communication? Possibly, the pt was poor and black. There was family or friends to advocate on her behalf. Nevertheless the statement breached medical ethics and legal responsibilities. A patient has a fundamental right to determine what medical care she will accept. To ignore these requests constitutes battery and possibly false imprisonment.
The patient reported that she never really spoke with her doctor. He would come into the room briefly, she said, early in the morning. He spent a short time examining her. Often he was interrupted by cell phone calls. He would say he had to run. The pt reported that the nurses were giving her little attention, save saying that she should take the medicine the doctor proscribed. She told the ICU nurses she was refusing meds and wanted to be discharged. She called me.
I found her curled up in a fetal position shivering with no blanket calling for help. She told me her wishes; her refusal of meds and request to be discharged. She had voluntarily admitted herself to the hospital and saw no reason that she should be kept “like a prisoner” and with her “Constitutional Rights violated." She implored me to help her; she said she had a brief time to live and did not want to remain in this hospital to wait out her days. She was feeling better and "wanted out." I contacted the primary treating physician who said she was not competent to make decisions. I recommended a psychiatric consult to confront this issue. The psychiatrist responded within a few hours and found that Jane was clearly competent to make decisions for herself, but placed her on an involuntary 72 hour hold because he found her to be paranoid that people would not listen to her.
This was a misapplication of the purpose of the 72-hour psychiatric hold statute, used for the protection of a who may cause harm to herself or others. I contacted then psychiatrist to inquire why he felt she might cause harm to herself or others. He did not think she would but did not want to cause "a problem" for the primary treating physician.
August 12, 2010
As shocking as this might sound, those who suffer from body dismorphic disorder (BDD) don’t feel better or improve on any indicators after having plastic surgery according to a recent study in the Annals of Plastic Surgery.…