Comfort Care

How AI can improve end-of-life care

Published in Stanford Medicine’s SCOPE by Amy Jeter Hansen

It’s hard to wrap your brain around. It’s hard to even type these words, but here they are: it’s useful for physicians to be able to predict when a patient will die.

Photo by Edward Caldwell

Don’t misunderstand. It’s not about playing God or acting nefarious. It’s about doctors being able to help patients die on their own terms, as comfortably as possible, having received the best, most appropriate care.

In the new issue of Stanford Medicine magazine, writer Kris Newby describes a Stanford pilot program that marries technology and compassion, artificial intelligence and palliative care, with the aim of helping doctors better understand which patients could benefit from end-of-life conversations while there is still time.

In the article, palliative care physician Stephanie Harman, MD, tells Newby:

Ideally with this AI model, we’re identifying patients who are sicker than we realize… And it gives us an excuse to say, ‘It’d be great if we could talk about advanced care planning.’ Or, ‘Have you had a discussion with your regular doctor about what matters most to you if and when you get sicker?’ I think the twist is that we’re using machine learning to add more to a patient’s care without taking anything away.

Developed by Nigam Shah, MBBS, PhD, the model uses an algorithm to calculate the probability that a patient will die within the next 12 months, based on comparisons of the past year of the patient’s medical history with records of millions of other patients. Many factors are considered, including the number of hospital admissions, disease classification codes and prescription codes.

The tool provides Harman with a daily report of newly-admitted hospital patients who have a 90 percent or higher probability of dying in three to 12 months. Harman reviews the medical records to decide if the patients have palliative care needs. “She’s found the list to be helpful,” the article explains, “and she sees how it can improve hospital care and enable her to spend more time with the most critical patients.”

This is important because, as the article notes, less than half of admitted hospital patients who need palliative care actually receive it. And many more people would want to die at home than actually do.

Hopefully, tools like this will help.

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Hospice is here for patients and families

In the health care industry, awareness for hospice care continues to grow as more patients and families turn to hospice and understand the care hospice provides.

Although myths about hospice are that “it is only for cancer patients”, “hospice is giving up” or “too expensive, indeed the opposite is true.

Hospice illustrates that it is a vital part of end-of-life care and plays a significant role in health care in communities.

Here are some facts to know about hospice:

 

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How the Hospice Benefit Could Be Redefined

Published in Home Health Care News By Amy Baxter

As recent changes across the health care system over the last few years indicate that person-centered, interdisciplinary care can improve clinical outcomes, boost patient satisfaction and potentially lower overall costs, hospice care could see an evolution ahead.

Hospice has become known as the first truly interdisciplinary benefit, bringing together many types of care under one roof. As more alternative payment models (APMs), managed care organizations and Medicare Advantage plans seek more flexibility in caring for patients with a person-centered approach, hospice is similarly looking for a way into these increasingly popular care models.

Home Health Care News caught up with Edo Banach, CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), to discover how the association is helping push the boundaries of hospice care with a new advertising campaign aimed at consumers and lawmakers, and efforts to redefine the benefit. Banach, who has been at the helm of NHPCO for more than a year, has an extensive background of working closely with the regulations and innovations departments at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) before the hospice industry “came calling.”

Here’s where Banach believes hospice is going.

Overall, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen during your career in health care?

Banach: One thing that is positive is when I started working in health care 16 years ago, it was really hard. What I’ve seen is, back then, managed care companies weren’t falling all over themselves to manage coordinated care. You had a really more siloed system than you have now, pre-Affordable Care Act (ACA), pre-[Medicare] Part D.

Managed care companies can now pay for less medical benefits [by supplementing with non-medical benefits]. We’re getting more integrated. We are moving in the right direction. I want to make sure that the integration and technology is used as a tool to help supplement real, compassionate interdisciplinary care, not one-step-removed care.

So, you talk about hospice being a movement. Where do you see hospice moving to?

One way we see it moving is upstream, but it is an absolute shame that people have to give up so-called curative care in order to get palliative care, hospice. It shouldn’t be a choice. You should be able to get both.

I think when people get both, they often see the value of palliative care. There is a demonstration now called the Care Choices model, which is testing out if curative and palliative care saves money or not, [if it] is an improvement on quality or not, and that will be very helpful and telling.

My goal in the next couple years, if not the next couple months, is to create a pre-hospice palliative care benefit that will allow folks to benefit from person-centered interdisciplinary care, that you see in hospice, earlier. When they have a serious illness, [palliative care is] a pathway and a glide path to receive the full-on hospice benefit that they will eventually receive.

Most people are on hospice now for only a couple of weeks, if not a couple days.

Just like former First Lady Barbara Bush.

Yes, she took comfort care and passed away two days later. And I think that’s not enough time for the system of care to actually have the impact that it needs to have.

Part of it is the choice that people make. Do you want curative care or do you want palliative care? You should be able to get both, and I think that’s crucial. That’s something that we will get to.

What are your other top priorities?

The other thing is about the length [of stay]. The problem with Medicare fee-for-service [FFS] now is these black lines—if you’re on one side, it is OK, and on the other side it’s not. For home health it’s skilled, homebound, these are the things we talk about and auditors look at a lot. In hospice, it’s [about if] you have a prognosis of less than six months and a need for hospice care.

That six-month limitation is treated as a clinical issue. It’s not a clinical issue; it’s a budgetary issue. It doesn’t make sense anymore. Ideally, in a couple years we will have much more of a glide-path between [when a person is] going along swimmingly and getting whatever is medically necessary under Medicare and receiving interdisciplinary person-centered care under hospice.

And my hope is that interdisciplinary person-centered care actually becomes the rule rather than the exception. That’s how this movement will have worked. I don’t just want to reshape the hospice benefit, I want to reshape health care.

Seems like a big uphill battle to me, as new Medicare benefits really come along quite infrequently.

Yes and no. For this, it’s not actually as radical as it sounds. This is an APM that I expect will actually happen. There’s interest in it, we’ve had meetings about it. I am hopeful this is something that can be done.

You’re right, Medicare benefits come infrequently. But we are not talking about a new benefit here. We’re talking about flexibility to provide more person-centered care that is not the poked-and-prodded variety. And that’s exactly what is happening over at ACOs and in Medicare Advantage land. As that is happening and plans can now pay for supports and services, it will seem even less logical for FFS Medicare to be in this box. So I think it is imminent.

 

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