Wednesday, March 9, 2011

New Poll Indicates Desire for Enhancing Quality of Life at the End of Life

Hospice Foundation of America’s Outreach and Development Officer, Catherine Campbell, attended the National Journal Live Policy Summit: Living Well at the End of Life, A National Conversation on Tuesday, March 8th in Washington, D.C. The event was moderated by Ronald Brownstein, Editorial Director of the National Journal, and underwritten by the Regence Foundation. Brent McGoldrick, Sr. VP and General Manager of DC based Financial Dynamics, presented the poll to an audience of about 100 policymakers and interest groups. Following the presentation, the survey findings were discussed in a roundtable discussion of experts including representatives from the Cato Institute, Compassion and Choices, the American Society for Clinical Oncology, and AARP. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), also participated in the discussion.

Together, the National Journal and The Regence Foundation polled 1000 Americans on their views of end-of-life care. The Key Findings reported were:

  1. Americans feel strongly that enhancing quality of life is more important than extending it, but they are divided on how much the health care system should spend to extend the life of a seriously ill patient.
    • By a wide margin, Americans believe it is more important to enhance the quality of life for seriously ill patients, even if it means a shorter life (71%) than to extend the life of seriously ill patients through every medical intervention possible (23%).
    • This result is consistent across all party affiliations – Democrats (71%/24%), Republicans (68%/27%), and Independents (72%/20%).
    • More than half of Americans (55%) believe that the health care system has the responsibility, technology and expertise to offer treatments and spend whatever it takes to extend lives. This is compared to 37% who believe the health care system spends far too much trying to extend the lives of seriously ill patients.
  2. Americans believe palliative care should be a top priority in health care.
    • Americans are unfamiliar with the term palliative care (24% say they are "familiar"), especially compared to end-of-life care (65%) and hospice care (86%).
    • When educated on palliative and end-of-life care, Americans are nearly unanimous in believing these treatments should be a top priority in health care (96% important).
    • Nearly two-in-three Americans (63%) have had personal or family experience with palliative care, end-of-life care, or hospice care. However, only half say they were prepared for that experience.
  3. People, regardless of political affiliation, want palliative care included in public and private conversations about health care.
    • A strong majority of Americans believe there should be more of an open debate about public policies regarding palliative care options (78% agree).
    • Respondents agree that educating patients and their families about these issues is important (97%), they think a public dialogue will provide more information about care options (86%), and they think discussions should be fully covered by both private health insurance and Medicare (86% and 81%).
    • Only 12% of Democrats, 26% of Republicans, and 22% of Independents agreed with the concern that an open debate about palliative care and end-of-life care could interfere with personal decisions between families and doctors.
    • A full 81% of Americans believe discussions about palliative care and end-of life treatment options should be covered by Medicare, including 86% of Democrats, 77% of Republicans, and 79% of Independents.
  4. Despite a strong preference for quality of life at the end of life, many Americans worry about potential conflicts between palliative care and doing whatever it takes to extend a patient's life. This concern surfaces disproportionately among African-Americans.
    • Roughly half (47%) of respondents say they worry that emphasizing palliative and end-of-life care options could interfere with doing whatever it takes to help patients extend their lives as long as possible.
    • Once again, this concern is expressed consistently regardless of political affiliation, held by 45% of Democrats, 48% of Republicans, and 51% of Independents.
    • Significant differences show up here between college-educated (35%) and non-college-educated (57%) respondents, and between Whites (44%), Hispanics (39%), and African-Americans (71%).

View the topline results here.