Today, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse chaired a hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging entitled "Empowering Patients and Honoring Individual's Choices: Lessons in Improving Care for Individuals with Advanced Illness." The hearing focused on efforts to improve the link between patient wishes and services provided for individuals with advanced illness.
"Today's discussion will focus on how our current health care system is and isn't working for individuals diagnosed with serious or advanced illness, such as Alzheimer's disease, dementia, or late-stage cancer," Whitehouse said in his opening statement. "Far too often, these patients and their families are forced to navigate our fragmented health care system alone, at a time when what they need most is a helping hand. Our physicians, nurses, and other clinicians are trained and equipped to conduct medical miracles. However, as we'll hear from today's witnesses, these providers are often not trained to have conversations about care options, care goals, and how patients can best make their wishes heard." The Senator also spoke about his own experiences with this issue, both on a personal and professional level.
The hearing highlighted interdisciplinary models of care that put patients and caregivers at the center of the decision-making process. It also addressed ways to empower patients to make treatment decisions that align with their preferences and goals.
Dr. Vince Mor, a professor of community health at Brown University in Rhode Island, testified that patient choices could be better carried out if "a single health care provider, or health care system, is accountable for an episode of care." He continued: "Hospitals and nursing homes must become partners in order to decrease inappropriate health care transitions, particularly in the last months of life."
Other witnesses testifying today were Dr. Gail Cooney, a Stage 3 ovarian cancer survivor and the Associate Medical Director for Physician Quality and Performance Improvement at Hospice of Palm Beach County in West Palm Beach, FL; Karren Weichert, President and CEO of Midland Care Connection, Inc. in Topeka, KS; and Albert Gutierrez, President and CEO of Saint Joseph Regional Medical Center in Mishawaka, IN.
Senator Whitehouse has worked on issues relating to care for individuals with advanced illness since his time as Rhode Island's Attorney General. In the Senate, he also held an Aging Committee hearing in 2008 to hear from medical and legal experts about the ways in which patients are documenting their final wishes, and the role of health care providers in these decisions.