From the Journals

Lay health workers improve end-of-life care



Lay health workers (LHWs) can improve documentation of cancer patients’ care preferences in the aftermath of their diagnosis, investigators report.

Physicians, palliative care workers, and other health professionals can help cancer patients understand their prognosis and establish end-of-life care preferences, but busy schedules and professional reluctance often prevent this. Nonclinical, nonprofessional LHWs often are employed to assist with screening and adherence, but little work has been done to use them in end-of-life care, Manali I. Patel, MD, MPH, and her associates wrote in JAMA Oncology.

To investigate their potential in this role, the researchers randomized 213 patients with stage 3 or 4 recurrent cancer to usual care or the LHW intervention, which included a 6-month structured program delivered by a single LHW who was enrolled in a part-time graduate health education program. The LHWs received an 80-hour online skills-based seminar and 4 weeks’ observation training with a palliative care team.

The LHWs helped patients with advanced care planning, including: education about goals of care, establishment of care preferences, establishment of a surrogate decision maker, creation of an advanced directive, and encouragement to discuss the patient’s care with the clinician.

In the intervention arm, 92.4% of patients successfully had their goals of care documented in the electronic health record within 6 months of randomization, compared with 17.6% of the usual care group (P less than .001). They also were more likely to have created an advanced directive (67.6% vs. 25.9%; P less than .001), Dr. Patel, of Stanford (Calif.) University, and her associates reported.

Patient satisfaction was also greater in the intervention arm, as measured by the Consumer Assessment of Health Care Providers & Systems “satisfaction with provider” item (mean score, 9.16 vs. 7.83; P less than .001). At 6 months, with respect to their oncology provider, patients in the intervention arm registered a mean increase in satisfaction score of 1.53 (P less than .001).

Patients who died were more likely to receive hospice care if they were in the LHW group (76.7% vs. 48.3%; P =.002). Those in the LHW group also had lower health care costs during the final 30 days of their lives ($1,048 vs. $23,482; P less than .001).

Overall, the study shows that LHWs may be one mechanism for delivering high-value care and avoiding unnecessary, burdensome late-life treatments, at least in cancer patients.

SOURCE: Patel MI et al. JAMA Oncol. 2018 Jul 26doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2018.2446.

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