Tuesday, March 9, 2010
The Annals of Internal Medicine published a survey of hospices regarding their experience with patients who have implantable cardiac defibrillators. (See here for a brief explanation of these devices.)
The survey, conducted by Dr. Nathan Goldstein and colleagues, was directed at hospice administrators with instructions for that person to speak with the clinical staff. Of the 414 hospices that responded (a little less than half of those surveyed), 97% reported having patient(s) with ICDs, 58% reported having at least one patient who was shocked in the last year, and 42% of patients had the device deactivated.
Having a policy on ICD deactivation correlated with patients actually having the devices deactivated (73% of patients enrolled in hospices which had a policy vs. 38% in those without a policy; P < 0.001). The investigators include a sample hospice ICD deactivation policy in the web appendix. They rightly point out that it's impossible to know from this study whether the above correlation indicates a cause-effect relationship. Hopefully, further research is forthcoming. Policy/procedure + education seems to be the key. Without the former, you probably risk having a nurse not having the proper tools/avenues to do what she knows. Without the latter, you risk having inappropriate delays in identifying patients for deactivation and unused or improperly used magnet.
Envision a theoretical scenario: A person with hours to days to live is sent home from the hospital with an active ICD. The ICD has not discharged previously. A hospice nurse frantically calls the medical director during her enrollment visit at the patient's home (on the same day of hospital discharge) because the patient is comatose and has been shocked several times. Perhaps if a hospice policy dictates that nurses seeing patients with ICDs should always have a magnet, this type of scenario could be averted or easily managed. Maybe the magnets are inexpensive enough that every nurse should have one in their car (even though it's not an every day occurence?)
The main point of this case is that someone should have thought about deactivation before the patient was sent home. I hypothesize that most hospice patients with ICDs were hospitalized shortly before hospice enrollment. Regardless of whether this is true, I'll surmise that there is usually plenty of time for the cardiologist/internist/palliative care clinician to come up with a plan for ICD deactivation with the patient or family. Consideration of a hospice referral should trigger any of the above providers to readdress the goals of ICD and consider deactivation, but in many patients, it's appropriate to have this conversation well before hospice referral. So in an ideal world (we're working on it), it should be a non-issue for most patients once they are enrolled in hospice. Goldstein has previously identified barriers that may prevent physicians from bringing up this topic. Maybe hospice nurses don't share these barriers.
Does your hospital, cardiology service, or palliative care team have a policy or procedure for these discussions?
Even if every physician could manage this conversation, some patients would elect to keep the device programmed for discharge at the time of hospice referral. Because of this and the fact that the ideal world won't arrive soon enough, hospices should definitely get to work on their ICD policies and procedures.
Here's more information on deactivating an ICD. (Disclaimer: I have not independently verified the veracity of this information although I do have direct experience with deactivating the Boston Scientific ICD and the instructions listed seem correct- when this device emits a faint beeping sound after a magnet is placed over it, you know it is deactivated. A large household magnet can work but it's probably most effective to have an ICD magnet on hand.)
P.S. The Population-based Palliative Care Research Network (PoPCRN) assisted with the development of this survey. Check them out if you haven't heard of them. PoPCRN's director, Dr. Jean Kutner, just won an AAHPM Distinguished Service Award at the Annual Assembly. Congrats!