Early Palliative Care Cuts Time in ICU

THURSDAY, June 21 (HealthDay News) -- For seriously ill patients, early proactive palliative care reduced the length of stay in the intensive care unit by more than seven days but did not have an effect on death rates.

That's the conclusion of a study by University of Rochester Medical Center researchers that's published in the June issue of the journal Critical Care Medicine.

"One goal of a palliative care consultation is to provide assistance and support to patients and their families while they make health care decisions," lead author Sally Norton, assistant professor at the university's School of Nursing, said in a prepared statement.

"Palliative care consultations are designed to help patients and their families to more fully understand their medical condition, the benefits and burdens of treatments, and likely outcomes to help them make the most informed decisions about the treatments as possible," Norton said.

"By earlier identification of patients whose medical treatments are no longer in line with their personal goals, we can better alleviate their pain, manage symptoms, and get them into an environment they prefer, thereby improving their overall quality of life," she added.

For this study, Norton and her colleagues examined the impact of palliative care interventions on 191 seriously ill patients with a high risk of dying who were admitted to the medical intensive care unit (MICU) at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester between March 2004 and March 2005.

Within 72 hours of admission, the patients were screened by physician and nursing palliative care leaders. One group of patients received a palliative care consultation only after a MICU physician referral, which was standard practice at the time. Another group of patients received a proactive palliative care consultation shortly after they were admitted to the hospital.

Patients who received the proactive consultation spent much less time in the MICU but did not have shorter overall hospital stays or lower death rates than patients who received the standard palliative care consultation.

More information

The American Medical Association has more about palliative care.

SOURCE: University of Rochester Medical Center, news release, June 13, 2007

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