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Ethics Seminar: The Hospice Patient in the ED: An Ethical Approach to Understanding Barriers and Improving Care

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ACADEMIC EMERGENCY MEDICINE 2011; 18:1201–1207 © 2011 by the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Emergency physicians (EPs) are asked to evaluate and treat a growing population of hospice patients who present to the emergency department (ED) for a number of important reasons. Hospice patients pose unique ethical challenges, and “best practices” for these patients can differ from the life‐preserving interventions of usual ED care. Having a solid understanding of professional responsibilities and ethical principles is useful for guiding EP management of these patients. In end‐of‐life care, EPs need to recognize that there are barriers and complexities to the best management of hospice patients, but they need to commit to strategies that optimize their care.

This article describes the case of a hospice patient who presented with sepsis and end‐stage cancer to the ED. Patient, system, and physician factors made management decisions in the ED difficult. The goal in the ED should be to determine the best way to address terminally ill patient needs while respecting wishes to limit interventions that will only increase suffering near the end of life.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: From the Department of Emergency Medicine, Denver Health Medical Center (MZ), Denver, CO; and the Department of Emergency Medicine and the Center for Bioethics and Humanities, University of Colorado (JA), Denver, CO.

Publication date: 2011-11-01

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