DON'Ts for Long Term Care Patients: #ChoosingWisely Canada

I have been a serious fan and also a concerned critic of Choosing Wisely Canada (CWC) over the years. Overall the campaign is excellent, encouraging conversations between patients and providers to help prevent harmful and unnecessary tests, treatments, and procedures.

While I love the new emphasis on the high-level message "More is not always better," my feelings have always been lukewarm on the lists of Choosing Wisely Canada (CWC) recommendations, created by (mostly) physician associations not by Choosing Wisely Canada, as they vary in strength, currency, and courage. For example, the CAEP (Emergency physicians) list is quite clear, direct, and practice changing. The Orthopedics list is irrelevant, and not wisely chosen at all, lacking the moral fortitude to tackle common, high-paying procedures that have limited/no evidence to support them.

The most recent lists reinvigorate my interest! It is exciting to see a list from the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA), as nurses have an incredible role in advocating for patients and in helping patients make decisions. Hospital-based nurses usually know their patients well and might even have a better sense of their goals and needs than would a physician; a nurse's advice can easily sway a patient to see "too much" medicine, but it can equally reassure that patient that a test or other intervention may not be right for them.

Image from unknown source on twitter; quote from an interview with the  Centre for Advancing Health

Image from unknown source on twitter; quote from an interview with the Centre for Advancing Health

Because most mornings I work in a program that is designed to help frail elders avoid unnecessary/ unwanted admissions to hospital, the Choosing Wisely list for Long Term Care (LTC) is extremely relevant to my practice. #1 (see below) resonates particularly with me, so I'm glad to see it is the first on the list. I see countless patients who could (and should) be looked after in their full-care facility but unfortunately they have turned up at the hospital. There are a number of reasons this happens, including the inability of the facility to contact the GP or the GP's inability to attend the patient in an urgent fashion, the family's 'insistence' that the patient be "checked out" at the hospital, a lack of clarity on the patient's goals, unclear understanding of the natural history of their disease, insufficient staffing at the care facility, etc. And sometimes these patients really do need to be at the hospital.

We clearly have a lot to learn both in how we communicate and in how we approach care for patients in long term care. This list is a great addition to the tool kit that might help us give LTC patients the right care for them:

  1. Don’t send the frail resident of a nursing home to the hospital, unless their urgent comfort and medical needs cannot be met in their care home.

  2. Don’t use antipsychotics as first choice to treat behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia. 

  3. Don’t do a urine dip or urine culture unless there are clear signs and symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI).

  4. Don’t insert a feeding tube in individuals with advanced dementia. Instead, assist the resident to eat. 

  5. Don’t continue or add long-term medications unless there is an appropriate indication and a reasonable expectation of benefit in the individual patient. 

  6. Don’t order screening or routine chronic disease testing just because a blood draw is being done.
     

See the list here or download the PDF.

Source: http://choosingwiselycanada.org/recommenda...

When the nurse told me "less is more"

I was called to the emergency room to admit a very ill patient. With sepsis and an MI, this frail elder probably wasn't going to do so well.

“He’s pretty sick, eh?”
“Yah. Poor guy.”

The nurse and I paused, resigned to the fact that this elderly man was nearing his end and there was little we could do to change that. I think we both sighed at the same time.

I entered the room and talked to the patient and the family at length. They showed me a photocopy of the DNR form he had signed years ago. He didn't have any kind of advance directive, and had rarely talked about the process of dying, aspects of medical treatment, or what his goals might be for the remainder of his life.

At home, he spent most of is time in bed. Mobility was a bit shaky with a walker so it was safer to stay put. Poor hearing, shoddy vision, and mild dementia made it nearly impossible for him to read or watch TV or to do much of anything, really. He still beamed during visits from the grandkids. His daughter told me that she thinks he had been depressed for a long time; every second day he would say that he was ready to die.

I stepped closer to him. The laboured breathing didn’t look any better close up. He did have the breath to tell me, “I’m dying.” When I discussed the various range of treatments from comfort care (treating pain and respiratory distress), to medical management (antibiotics, blood thinners), to aggressive medical therapy (maybe some non-invasive support for breathing), he said that he wanted to die.

Was he just feeling terrible because his heart had jammed from the strain of fighting off a systemic infection, something that would be exhausting and uncomfortable even on its own? Or was this an expression of considered hope for an end to his now languid existence?

It wasn’t easy to communicate clearly or in detail. I asked more questions, but he said little. Even with a raised voice, I don’t know if he could hear me. His family was uncertain about what he would want done. It was clear that anything aggressive was not right. With failed kidneys, I’d have to give an IV blood thinner (heparin infusion) with up to 4x a day lab tests to prevent worsening of the heart attack. His breathing might get worse and if so, could be helped by strapping a machine on his face to push and pull air in and out of his lungs. That seemed cruel.

But, should I still offer some minimally invasive things that might improve both quality and quantity of life? Antibiotics might help the breathing to get easier and give him a chance of surviving. But this might also just delay the inevitable, prolonging suffering.

I try not to be wishy-washy and give patients and families clear recommendations, but it is hard. When people’s values vary so widely, and there are several avenues that might be appropriate, I don’t feel I can make the decisions for them.

I try really hard not to push my belief in “less is more medicine” too far. I don't want patients to be denied opportunity for healing and improvement. Just as I feel very strongly about doing less of the unnecessary things and interventions that will give more harm than benefit, I also feel very strongly that patients should have timely and meaningful opportunity to have the tests and treatments that might really benefit them.

“What do you think he would want? Is that consistent with his wishes? . . . ”

After I finished talking to the patient's family, I confirmed the plan with the nurse. We would keep the antibiotics and a few heart medications, but for the most part emphasize comfort. I left orders for adequate medications for pain, respiratory distress, and restlessness, to be used regularly if needed. If he got worse, we would stop the antibiotics. I didn’t think they would really help him but his family wanted to try. Although they would not want to extend his distress, it was all pretty sudden and not treating potentially reversible things was different than ensuring he was comfortable while dying (when no reversible causes remained).

It felt like we had arrived at some understanding of the medical reality, the patient’s wishes, and the substitute decision makers’ needs. As I discussed this and explained to the nurse that it wasn't maximum medical therapy but that it seemed a reasonable approach. Nurses, especially those who've got experience under their belt, seem to have a kind of wisdom that comes from the direct care of patients like these.

She looked at me and said "well, you know, less is more."

My colleague, an ER-physician who was in the same residency program as me and knows my passion, was within earshot. She chuckled.

A big smile stretched across my face, and I started looking at my list to find the next patient.

A New Kind of Rounds: Type 2 Diabetes in the Elderly CME

Thanks to my local Division of Family Practice and the Practice Support Program (PSP), we were able to put together "A New Kind of Rounds" event all about helping patients find the right amount of medicine. 

Our first event, focussed on Type 2 Diabetes in the Elderly, and specifically the harms of treating this too aggressively. Inspired by the Lown Institute's RightCare Rounds and the DoNoHarm Project, we started with patient cases in which the patient's perspective highlighted the burden of treatment and the potential harms of too much medicine.

After small-group case learning, I presented a didactic session reviewing the unique factors that change our approach to management in the elderly, the best available evidence on diagnosis and treatment targets, the current guidelines, and some resources that clinicians and patients can refer to in order to make shared decisions about the "right amount" of care.

The event was well-attended and it was heartwarming to see the level of engagement on this topic from clinicians in our community; we are reviewing the evaluations to consider some changes to the format. Participants also generated an amazing of possible topics for future events, from hypertension to cancer-screening, and anti-psychotic use in the elderly to the annual physical. 

The slides are available here.

Your feedback is most welcome. You can comment below or e-mail. 

My other lectures can be viewed here.

Source: http://prezi.com/ln78vzbqpu4-/?utm_campaig...