Panel seeks better end-of-life treatment

By Lisa M. Krieger

San Jose Mercury News

Published: Friday, Jan. 11 2013 10:33 p.m. MST

SAN JOSE, Calif. (MCT) — In a national move that portends improvement of care for the dying, an expert panel assembled by the Washington, D.C.-based Institute of Medicine announced Thursday that it will recommend ways to improve end-of-life care in America.

The Institute, part of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, seeks changes in federal policy, financing and hospital practices that will bring care into line "with individual values and preferences to promote high-quality, cost-effective care at the end of life," according to a statement.

The Institute's action comes amid heightened media attention on end-of-life care. Its concerns largely parallel the issues laid out in this newspaper's yearlong Cost of Dying series posted at www.mercurynews.com/cost-of-dying. That coverage concluded with an outline of ways to ease the financial and emotional costs of the end-of-life experience.

The Institute stated in its announcement that "coordinated, expert, compassionate care for people dying from chronic diseases continues to challenge the American health care system.

"During the last century and more, death has evolved from a common family event centered in the home to a medical event occurring in a distant medical facility overseen by trained experts and administrators," it said.

The Institute of Medicine is a nonpartisan group of experts that advises the federal government on medical issues. Mandated by Congress, its recommendations often make their way into U.S. laws and federal agency policies.

Sixteen years ago, the Institute issued a landmark report called "Approaching Death: Improving Care at the End of Life."

But much has changed since - technological advances, demographic and cultural shifts, a new focus on specifying end-of-life wishes and attention to easing pain and suffering during serious illness.

Also changing is the recognition of the family role in health care, so the panel will consider "the financial and other ramifications for families and society," the Institute said.

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