The New York Times Magazine discusses two pressing issues: 1) what type of treatment to the elderly really wish to receive at the end of their life and 2) how does economic incentives affect how physicians advise these patients. Much of my own research has dealt with (2) [see here]. The following two excerpts are revealing.
“According to an analysis by the Dartmouth Atlas medical-research group, patients are far more likely than their doctors to reject aggressive treatments when fully informed of pros, cons and alternatives — information, one study suggests, that nearly half of patients say they don’t get. And although many doctors assume that people want to extend their lives, many do not. In a 1997 study in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 30 percent of seriously ill people surveyed in a hospital said they would ‘rather die’ than live permanently in a nursing home. In a 2008 study in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 28 percent of patients with advanced heart failure said they would trade one day of excellent health for another two years in their current state.”
“It was a case study in what primary-care doctors have long bemoaned: that Medicare rewards doctors far better for doing procedures than for assessing whether they should be done at all. The incentives for overtreatment continue, said Dr. Ted Epperly, the board chairman of the American Academy of Family Physicians, because those who profit from them — specialists, hospitals, drug companies and the medical-device manufacturers — spend money lobbying Congress and the public to keep it that way.“