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Doctors looking at new end-of-life options

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Doctors looking at new end-of-life options
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What kind of care can doctors give when traditional care will no longer help a terminally ill patient? The answer to that question has changed drastically through the years. As our Andrew Sorensen reports, with a new national committee focused on the subject, it could be poised for an overhaul.

UTICA, N.Y. -- Dr. Kevin Mathews' personal and professional lives blurred before he even left medical school.

“Our daughter was born and we found out she had a hereditary muscular dystrophy,” Mathews said.

In 1980, their choices were to leave her to die on life support at the hospital or take her home. They chose the latter.

Mathews said, “And then my dad was diagnosed with stage four colorectal cancer in 1979.”

He says the two episodes, his daughter's short life...

“She had a perfect life. It was only ten months long,” Mathews said.

And his father, who chose a risky surgery option...

“And he died four days later,” Mathews said.

Led him to the growing field of palliative care, where the patient basically acknowledges there's nothing left to do.

Mathews said, “It's really pain and symptom management and also trying to help families and patients with information.”

He says it can make a world of difference, but it's a world that's likely about to change.

“We all have an opportunity to close the chapter in a way that's important to us,” said Dr. Patricia Bomba.

Excellus Blue-Cross Blue-Shield Dr. Patricia Bomba has been appointed to a National Institute of Medicine Committee to conduct the first study to transform palliative care since 1997.

Bomba said, “We are moving into a digital transformation.”

She says they're poised to bring revolutionary changes, like a digital end-of-life patient request program.

“As well as integrate that with good clinical care and bring it into the future,” said Bomba.

They also need to consider new oversights.

“How well are we doing at controlling people's pain, how well are we doing at keeping people out of the hospital?” said Ann Tonzi, Hospice and Palliative Care, Inc. CEO

As the president of a hospice and palliative care company, Tonzi says the committee needs to focus on costs. In the last three years alone, their costs for drugs have gone up about 50 percent. Their Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements only grew about four percent.

Tonzi said, “I think that's the biggest challenge for hospices.”

Dr. Mathews says not enough health care professionals are ready for the end-of-life conversation, but if they were, they could get more patients the end-of life care they deserve.

The National Institute of Medicine is kicking the study off this month by reviewing all of the changes to end-of-life care since their last study.

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