Ninety-three percent of Americans believe improving end-of-life care is important, but a significant number, including those who have recently lost a loved one, are dissatisfied with the way the country's healthcare system provides care to the dying, according to a new report by Last Acts, Washington. The national coalition working for better end-of-life care, which includes the American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American Hospital Association, AARP and NAACP among its members, said the healthcare system does only a "mediocre job" of caring for its most seriously ill and dying patients.
The yearlong study, released today, was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is the nation's first state-by-state report card on end-of-life care, grading all 50 states and the District of Columbia on eight key elements of care. Most states earned C's, D's and even E's on the majority of criteria, Last Acts said. Hospice care is underutilized in most states, and dying patients commonly have the support of hospice care for less than a week, the report found. Among its several recommendations, Last Acts said Medicare must be reformed to meet the needs of seriously ill and dying people, and "benefits, coverage and payments must be altered to allow for seamless patient-centered care for those facing progressive, serious and terminal illnesses." State lawmakers must also change the rules that affect doctors' ability to prescribe needed pain medications, and physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals must be specially trained in palliative care, the report said. -- by Julie Piotrowski