04:43 AM

Southern California Healthcare Providers Call for More Compassionate End-of-Life Care

Major Healthcare Institutions Issue Guidelines Promoting Advance Care Planning for All Adults So That Medical Decisions Support Individual Wishes and Reduce Suffering

Los Angeles - May 21, 2014 – Uniting around a vital cause, nearly a dozen of Southern California's leading healthcare providers are issuing a joint set of recommendations to reduce suffering and promote greater dignity for patients approaching the end of life.

The guidelines call for doctors and other healthcare professionals to engage all adult patients in advance care planning that respects patients' values and goals, and avoids treatments that can do more harm than good. The recommendations will be unveiled at Cedars-Sinai on Thursday (May 22nd) during a conference sponsored by the private and public healthcare providers.

"We want to inspire patients to spell out their preferences for medical care at the end of life and explore what physicians, medical groups and health systems can do to help navigate this journey," said Glenn D. Braunstein, MD, vice president of Clinical Innovation at Cedars-Sinai and one of the leaders of the coalition, known as the Los Angeles Advance Care Planning Group.

In addition to Cedars-Sinai, the group includes HealthCare Partners Medical Group and Affiliated Physicians, Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, Kaiser Permanente Southern California, Keck Medical Center of USC, LAC+USC Medical Center, MemorialCare Health System, Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center Torrance, Providence TrinityCare Hospice and the UCLA Health System.

Together, these providers care for more than 5 million Southern Californians.

Medical experts and government leaders applaud the initiative, pointing out that most people do not engage in end-of-life planning, leaving them vulnerable to medical care that does not reflect their wishes when their health takes a serious turn.

Research from the nonprofit California HealthCare Foundation, for example, shows that nearly 80 percent of Californians say they would want to speak with their doctor about end-of-life care, but fewer than 1 in 10 report having had that conversation. And 82 percent say it is important to put wishes in writing, but less than one-quarter have done so.

"This coordinated effort by so many Southern California healthcare providers shows the kind of leadership that can help many people in the communities they serve get the care that they want," said Sandra R. Hernández, MD, the foundation's president and chief executive officer.

The healthcare providers will elaborate on their advance care planning recommendations at Thursday's conference, titled "Better Planning, Better Care: Promoting Dignity, Reducing Suffering at End of Life." The guidelines call for doctors and medical systems to:

  • Encourage all patients to engage in advance care planning, and make this approach standard so providers can deliver appropriate care that reflects each patient's values and preferences
  • Facilitate timely access to palliative care and other support services such as hospice care for patients with chronic and progressive illnesses
  • Advise patients about the potential benefits and drawbacks of medical treatments, and whether such care can deprive individuals of a peaceful death
  • Engage in "shared-decision making" with patients to reach conclusions about what constitutes optimal care in particular situations

The conference also will feature two panel discussions.

One panel, moderated by Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, MD, MPH, medical director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, will involve members of the health systems discussing their organizations' plans to increase advance care planning.

A second panel will feature faith leaders from across the religious spectrum — including Buddhism, Catholicism, Christianity, Islam and Judaism — reflecting on the importance of end-of-life planning and how they intend to promote this message among their congregations.

A keynote address will be delivered by journalist Katy Butler, author of the 2013 memoir "Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death."

Thursday's conference is scheduled to run from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. in the Harvey Morse Auditorium at Cedars-Sinai, 8700 Beverly Blvd.