End-of-life planning in heart failure: It should be the end of the beginning
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Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a chronic, progressive, incurable condition characterized by periods of apparent stability interspersed with acute exacerbations. Despite many important advances in its treatment, approximately one-third of deaths in Canada each year result from CVD. While this might lead one to assume that a comprehensive medical approach exists to the management of this inevitable outcome, the reality is much different. The current Canadian medical model emphasizes the management of acute exacerbations of CVD during which end-of-life issues figure frequently and prominently, although in a setting that is inappropriate to address the comprehensive needs of patients and their families.As a result, end-of-life care was made a theme of the recently reported Canadian Heart Health Strategy and Action Plan (www.chhs-scsc.ca). From this, several recommendations are made, central to which is the need to reframe CVD as a condition ideally suited to a chronic disease management approach. In addition, replacement of the term 'palliative care' with the term 'end-of-life planning and care' is proposed to foster earlier and more integrated comprehensive care, which, it is proposed, denotes the provision of advanced care planning, palliative care, hospice care and advanced directives, with a focus on decision making and planning. Finally, end-of-life planning and care should be a routine part of assessment of any patient with CVD, should be reassessed whenever important clinical changes occur and should be provided in a manner consistent with relevant CVD practice guidelines. Specifically, a Canadian strategy to improve end-of-life planning and care should focus on the following: * Integrated end-of-life planning and care across the health care system; * Facilitated communication and seamless care provision across all providers involved in end-of-life planning and care; * Adequate resources in the community for end-of-life planning and care; * Specialized training in sensitive communication and supportive care as part of core training for all members of the interdisciplinary care team; * Measurement of key performance indicators for end-of-life planning and care; and * Research into effective end-of-life planning and care.Heart failure is an advanced form of CVD with very high morbidity, mortality and burden of care, making it an ideal condition for implementation and testing of interventions to improve end-of-life planning and care.
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