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At Life’s End, Aggressive Care Still the Norm

By Alvin Tran, Kaiser Health News

(Photo/Kaiser Health News)

(Photo/Kaiser Health News)

While fewer older Americans are dying in hospitals, new research suggests that doesn’t mean they’re getting less aggressive care in their final days.

Even as deaths in acute hospitals declined between 2000 and 2009, the use of intensive care units in the final 30 days of life increased, as did short-term hospice use, according to a study of Medicare beneficiaries published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The rate of changes to care for these patients, such as transitions within the last three days of life, also increased.

Dr. Joan Teno at Brown University’s medical school led the study. She says the increased use of hospice is encouraging, but worries about when seniors are referred to hospice.

“While there is greater access to hospice services, there’s also more ICU, more repeat hospitalizations, and more late transitions in the last three days of life,” Teno said during an interview. “The good news is that we are referring to hospice. The bad news is we’re referring to hospice in the last hours of life.” Continue reading