Archive for August, 2010

Heads up!! Calling all measure geeks!! Save the date: NQF call for measures planned for November 2010

This post was co-authored by Dale Lupu, PhD and Sydney Dy, MD

The National Quality Forum (NQF) is planning to issue a call for measures relevant to hospice and palliative care some time late in 2010, probably November. This is a critical opportunity to advance quality measurement for our field. (Hopefully, quality improvement follows on the heels of measurement.) Any of you who have submitted measures to NQF in the past know that quite a bit of effort goes into filling out the measure submission form, so we wanted to give you some advance notice as you think about the workload for yourself and your team going into the fall. Once NQF issues the call for measures, you will have 30 days to submit the forms. Here are links to general information on the NQF measure submission and endorsement process:

Every measure endorsed by NQF has to have a measure steward. The measure steward is responsible for making the necessary updates to the measure, and for informing NQF about any changes that are made to the measure on an annual basis. The measure steward is also responsible for providing the required measure information for the measure maintenance process that occurs approximately every three years.

If your organization has developed quality measures that you are finding useful in guiding quality improvement within hospice and palliative care, please consider submitting the measure(s) to NQF in the fall. It is very important that NQF receive a strong and robust set of measures to consider for endorsement. NQF endorsed measures form the backbone of pay for performance and value-based purchasing efforts that will likely impact more and more on hospice and palliative care in the coming years. The field needs a strong set of endorsed measures to move quality improvement efforts forward.

For those of you who fit the category of “measure user” more than “measure developer” – take heart. When it is finished, the results of this NQF project will be an important resource for you. A clear set of NQF endorsed measures in palliative and hospice care will make it easier for you to select and promote measures in your own setting. Begin laying the groundwork now for eventual implementation by spreading the word to the quality gurus in your organization that NQF endorsed palliative care measures are on the way for 2011.

Another indication that HPM is becoming more mainstream?

In the category of ‘what goes around comes around,’ a recent event reminded me of the ironies life can bring; but this is a cautionary tale for all. At this time last year, I was immersed in a trial. While there is a general impression that hospice and palliative medicine are relatively immune from issues of tort liability and malpractice, this is proving to be increasingly untrue. In some parts of the country, trial lawyers are exploring new theories of litigation with causes of action against hospice and palliative medicine providers, an untapped and fertile ground for potential malpractice awards. While this clearly isn’t “good news,” ironically it may be another milestone in HPM’s ongoing efforts to integrate into ‘mainstream medicine.’

The case involved a middle-aged man who presented with non-small cell lung cancer. At initial diagnosis, disease seemed to be limited. He underwent surgical resection to remove the mass; however, biopsies showed tumor present in the contralateral lung, as was confirmed by subsequent bronchoscopy. After completing radiation therapy, he had two more bronchoscopies, each confirming ongoing malignancy in both lungs. He was referred to hospice when he declined chemotherapy.

His course was complicated by pain, at least in part related to post-thoracotomy syndrome. This required high dose opioids for pain management, after failure of interventional techniques and other adjuvant therapies. While on hospice over the next couple of years, he underwent further diagnostic and prognostic evaluation, including imaging studies showing ongoing progression of disease.

Then something changed. Coincidentally at the time he moved out of our service area, reevaluation by his new treatment team indicated radiographic regression. His performance status began to improve. Believing his prognosis was extending, he was discharged from hospice and his new internist assumed duties as his primary care physician (PCP), including management of his ongoing pain.

Almost two years after his hospice discharge, a suit was filed. Five years after that, the suit finally went to trial. Discovery proceedings showed that his new PCP told this patient that there was an error, and that his cancer must have been misdiagnosed because if he really had cancer in the first place, he would have died. His PCP weaned the patient off opioids (despite ongoing pain) and told him that by giving him high dose opioids when he didn’t have cancer, the hospice and yours truly as the hospice doctor, (though I was eventually dropped as a named party in the suit) had turned him into an addict, which was malpractice.

This theory that we made him an addict then formed the basis for a suit, supported by one board-certified “expert” (a very part-time, hospice and palliative medicine physician from four states away), as well as a stack of articles indicating that opioids cause harm. These studies involved street heroin users, polydrug abusers, or patients with sleep apnea; not individuals being treated under careful medical supervision for severe pain. The defense included several HPM specialists and a renowned pain specialist, all of whom agreed that care was not only appropriate, but exemplary. In the end, this jury of our peers were evidently swayed by plaintiff attorneys theatrics like: referring to the commercial showing an egg frying in the pan with the statement, “here’s your brain; here’s your brain on drugs,”; or pouring out a 50-lb bag of beans over the floor in front of the jury to indicate (without having to prove up the numbers) how many pills the patient supposedly took during his hospice stay. Defense testimony that this represented a rare case of spontaneous remission was met with derision, the implication being that claiming “a miracle” as our defense is really no defense at all. The judge, clearly trying to champion the underdog, made several rulings favoring the plaintiff, which all later agreed would have been adequate basis for a successful appeal and eventual retrial.

When the jury, in its deliberations, began sending out questions indicating that an award was being contemplated, the suit was settled. Defense attorneys wanted to limit a potential high-dollar award, while plaintiff attorneys wanted to avoid the risk of an appeal sending the case back for re-trial. Post-trial juror debriefing revealed that no one really believed anyone had done anything wrong; but, “no one can have cancer like that just go away,” and “the poor man just deserved some sort of compensation for all he had been through.”

Regarding this being a cautionary tale: all medical practitioners should be aware that at trials, our legal system is much more about theatrics than scientific facts. To plaintiff lawyers, this is a business in which they will push all limits in order to win. To defense attorneys, this is about limiting financial risk. To judges, this is often about protecting the poor and unfortunate, even at the expense of those who did nothing wrong other than not being so unfortunate. Sadly, I used to believe what we’ve all been taught: that this is supposed to be about fairness and justice. During this almost three-week trial, I heard much more talk about winning the lottery than about achieving justice.

Ironically, what served as the trigger for blogging about this (if you can believe it), is that last week we received a referral to our hospice for a now slightly older man with terrible pain due to wide-spread, metastatic non-small cell lung cancer. His statement was that he’d had a “bad experience” with hospice once, but now he believed he needed that kind of care once again. Upon legal advice, it was decided to refer him on to a different agency; one that he had not previously sued. I have to admit feeling sad over that decision, since I still believe we treated him correctly the first time, and could again provide him appropriate relief of suffering, during these, his last days. But then again, life isn’t always fair.

Day Two of Intensive Review…

The second day was just as intense as the first- fabulous speakers and a review of important information.
Here are some pearls from the second day of AAHPM board review course:

Dyspnea: (Vincent Jay Vanston)
-Total Dyspnea has 4 domains: Physical, Psychological, Interpersonal, Existential
-Must address all domains to adequately control Dyspnea
-When possible and appropriate, treat the underlying medical cause of dyspnea
-Opioids remain the front line agent for symptom relief
-Little support for benzo’s as front line agent
-Benzos and Opioids used together provide best effect when treating dyspnea

Nausea and Vomiting (Joseph Shega)
-Four pathways of Nausea- chemoreceptor, cortex, peripheral and vestibular
-No medications directly affect the Vomiting Center in the brain
-Know what drugs work on what receptors

Anorexia and Cachexia (Jennifer Reidy)
-Multiple factors contribute to ACS: tumor by-products, chronic inflammation, metabolic/neuroendrocrine/anabolic derangement
-Understand secondary causes of ACS (ex: oral problems, psychosocial issues, functional issues)
-ACS also occurs in non-cancer states such as with cardio-pulmonary disease, CKD, liver disease etc
-Understand difference between ACS and starvation
-Artificial Nutrition and Hydration (ANH) is not food, but medical therapy
-Purpose of ANH is not to improve comfort

Urgent Medical Conditions (Jennifer Reidy)
- Bowel Obstruction med management with analgesics, antiemetics and anticholinergics; anticholinergic drug of choice is glycopyrrolate 0.2mg-0.4mg sC Q6H or 0.02mg/hr infusion; drug of choice as it does not cross the BBB
-Spinal Cord Compression med management with high dose steriods; consider surgery +/- radiation therapy- good topic to look up in detail!!
- Seizures: status epilepticus defined as any seizure exceeding 5 minutes OR two seizures in 30 minutes without recover of consciousness- mortality 21-33%! those at risk: brain tumors, hemorrhagic stroke, h/o seizure, alzheimers, alcohol or drug abuse (w/d risk), liver/renal failure, lyte abnl, neurodegenerative dz, infections
-Seizure medical treatment options: subcut midazolam or phenobarbital; rectal diazepam (most antiepileptics can be given rectally); intramuscular lorazepam, midazolam or phenobarbital; sublingual lorazepam, clonazepam or midazolam; intranasal midazolam

Other topics discussed on day two: depression, delerium, other medical emergencies such as increased ICP/ pathological fractures and hemorrhage, palliative sedation, wound care, dementia, advanced cardiopulmonary disease and care of the imminently dying.

Suggested articles:

1. Abernathy A, Wheller J.Total Dyspnea. Current Opinions in Supportive and Palliative Care, 2008, 2:110-113
2. Del Fabbro E, et al. Symptom Control in Palliative Care- Par II: Cachexia/Anorexia and Fatigue. J Pall Med, 2006, Vol9 (2): 409-21
3. Ripamonti C, Mercandante S. Pathophysiology and management of malignant bowel obstruction. Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine, 3rd Edition. Doyle D, Hangs G, et al., eds. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2003:8:496
4. Abrahm JL, Fanffy MB, Harris MB. Spinal cord compression in patients with advanced metastatic cancer: “All I care about is walking and living my life.” JAMA 2008; 299(8):937-46
5. Stewart AF. Hypercalemia associated with cancer. N Engl J Med 2005;352:373-9
6. Kovacs CS, MacDonald SM, Chik CL, Bruera E. Hypercalcemia of malignancy in the palliative care patient: a treatment strategy. J Pain Symptom Management 1995; 10:224-32
7. Wood, GJ, Shega JW, Lynch B, Von Roenn JH. Managemetn of intractable nausea and vomiting in patients at the end of life. JAMA 2006. 298 (10): 1196-1207

Other resources: website gives nice medication conversions

My thoughts on the final day at the review course will come shortly….

Tanya Stewart MD FAAHPM

NEJM Study Shows Palliative Care Extends Life

Most of you have already seen the study released yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine and I suspect that those of you who work in palliative medicine were not at all surprised by the results: patients who received palliative care along with standard oncology treatment for advanced lung cancer not only had a higher quality of life, but lived three months longer, as well. Isn’t that what we’ve been saying all along?

I have personal experience that supports their conclusions. When I was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer in 2008, I relied on a program of palliative care to enable me to tolerate the toxic intraperitoneal chemotherapy that was recommended. I was determined to get ALL of my treatments, WHEN they were scheduled, in order to give myself the best chance of responding. I sought out aggressive symptom management, controlling the pain and nausea so that I could be ready for the next round of treatment. I saw an oncology counselor and set up a website to coordinate meals for my family and me. I prayed. My friends prayed. Friends of friends prayed. I used acupuncture, initially to help with the nausea but later, just because it made me feel better. Three Reiki masters came to my home weekly to keep my energy positive.

And I stayed on schedule! I had chemotherapy the day before Thanksgiving (only because they were closed on Thanksgiving and Thursday was my “usual” day). I finished my last treatment on Christmas Eve. I was determined to do this and palliative care made it possible. With an “n” of one, I’m not a randomized trial, but I did better than those around me. And, I’m still here two years later to marvel at my survival.

But now there IS a randomized trial!

151 patients with newly diagnosed, metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer were randomly assigned to receive either early palliative care integrated with standard oncology care or standard oncology care alone. The primary outcome was the change in quality of life at 12 weeks, assessed by the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy-Lung (FACT-L) and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale. Data on end-of-life care were collected from electronic medical records.

Patients who received concurrent palliative care had a better quality of life than did patients who received standard care alone (P = 0.03). They also had fewer depressive symptoms (P = 0.01). At the end-of-life, the palliative care group had fewer aggressive treatments (aggressive care was defined as receiving any of the following: chemotherapy within 14 days of death, no hospice care, or admission to hospice less than 3 days before death) (P = 0.05). Despite this, the patients who received concurrent palliative care from the time of diagnosis lived longer – almost 3 months longer (ll.6 months vs. 8.9 months, P = 0.02).

This study confirms the importance of palliative care begun at the time a serious illness is diagnosed, enabling patients to live better AND to live longer. Great news for patients and for the field of palliative care.

Intensive Review Course is Intense!

Day one was an excellent and fast paced day in the dungeon of the Hyatt in downtown Chicago. It appears the leaders at AAHPM have mastered Atul Gwande’s “Checklist Manifesto” as everything appeared smooth from the start.

Over 680 participants and close to 300 on the waiting list; thirteen 30 minute sessions with two 30 minute panel discussions breaking up the day; 7 speakers… really, what could go wrong? If anything did go wrong, the cover up was superb.

Now to the content of the course- great refresher and some excellent new information was shared. For those of you not attending the course or those at the course who experienced post-prandial coma and missed some points- here are a few highlights from a couple of today’s lectures:

v Pathophysiology of Pain (Eduardo Bruera)-

  • Have a clear understanding of incidental pain and how this is different from treatment of break through pain
  • Only area of pain we can measure is “Expression” which has five components: cognitive status, mood, beliefs, cultural, biography
  • Have an idea of inhibitory modulators of nociception and excitatory modulation of nociception

v Pain Assessment and Barriers (Michael Preodor)-

  • Understand the barriers at the Provider, patient/family, system levels
  • Understand difference between addiction, dependence, pharmacologic tolerance, pseudo-addiction and diversion

v Principles of Pain Management (Eduardo Bruera)

  • Pain is multidimensional- if pain is increasing, one must do a complete assessment
  • Risk factors for developing Opioid Induced Neurotoxicity (OIN)include
    • High opioid dose
    • Prolonged opioid exposure
    • Pre-existing delirium
    • Dehydration
    • Renal failure
    • Presence of other psychoactive drugs
  • Diagnosis of OIN
    • Cognitive failure
    • Severe sedation
    • Hallucinosis/ delirium
    • Myoclonus/grand mal seizures
    • Hyperalgesia/ allodynia

v Pediatric Sessions (Jeanne Lewandowski)

  • Start low, titrate quickly
  • Half of all pediatric deaths occur in the first year of life, of which half are in the first month
  • Unable to declare a child dead by neurologic criteria (brain dead) in the first week of life
  • Participation of the ill child in decision making is ideal- term used in “assent”

Articles some of the speakers suggested we read:

  1. Zisook, S, Shear K. Grief and bereavement: what psychiatrists need to know; Work Psychiatry 2009 June; 8(2):67-74
  2. Himelstein, BP: Palliatve Care for infants, children, adolescents, and their families. J Pall Med 9(1) 2006, 163-181
  3. Lo B, Ruston D, Kates LW et al. Discussing Religious and spiritual issues at the end of life: a practical guide for physicians. JAMA 2002; 287(6)749-754
  4. Cassell EJ. The nature of suffering and the goals of medicine. N Engl J Med 1982; 306:639-45
  5. Smith HS. Opioid Metabolism; Mayo Clin Proc 2009; 84(7):613-24
  6. Hanks, G et al. Strategies to manage the adverse effects of oral morphine: an evidence-based report. Journal of Clinical Oncology 19(9); 2542-54, 2001, May

So, we are off to a great start! Let’s see what tomorrow brings….

Tanya Stewart MD FAAHPM