Monday, December 4, 2017

Unbefriended Patients (Research, Video 3:02)

“Unbefriended” is a word most people rarely hear or use. The very thought of being unbefriended carries a sadness that makes people dread experiencing it. Unfortunately, too many people are heading in that direction.

In the healthcare arena, unbefriended patients are those who have no surrogates to represent them in making medical decisions for self-determination. Being unbefriended jeopardizes a fundamental concept of American healthcare. Even more complicated both legally and ethically is an unbefriended patient who also happens to be in a vegetative state.

The process for making decisions on behalf of unbefriended patients is complicated and varies throughout the country. An example is this case of an unbefriended hospital patient admitted with cardiac arrest. The patient suffered significant brain damage and was in a vegetative state. This case occurred in a state where, unless an unbefriended patient will imminently die despite medical therapy, all measures must be taken to prolong the patient's life. With no surrogate with whom healthcare professionals could have a goals-of-care discussion, they were obligated to continue aggressive management despite knowing it would prolong, but not improve the patient’s condition. Prolonging life included a feeding tube and being transferred to a long-term care facility.

The importance of having early healthcare discussions regarding treatment and written advance directives including a surrogate (durable power of attorney) to make medical decisions cannot be stressed enough. If you were dying right now, would you be unbefriended? Would you be protected from overtreatment or undertreatment? Dr. Eric Widera explains solutions to this problem in this video brought to you by members of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

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