Micro Level Priority Setting for Elderly Patients with Acute Cardiovascular Disease and Complex Needs Practice What We Preach or Preach What We Practice?
Abstract: Demographic trends and other factors are expected to continue widening the gap between health care demands and available resources, especially in elder services. This growing imbalance signals a need for priority setting in health care. The literature has previously described problems in constructing useable means of priority setting, particularly when evidence is sparse, when patient groups are not satisfactorily defined, when interpretation of the term patient need is unclear, and when uncertainty prevails on how to weigh different ethical values. The chosen study object illustrates these problems. Moreover, the Swedish Government recently stated that care for elderly persons with complex health care needs remains underfunded. The general aim of this thesis is: to study micro-level priority setting for elderly heart patients with complex needs, as illustrated by those with non-ST-elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI); to relate the findings to evidence-based priority setting, e.g. guidelines for heart disease; and to analyse how complex needs could be appropriately categorised from a perspective of evidence-based priority setting.Paper I presents a register study that uses data from the Patient Register to describe inpatient care utilization, costs, and characteristics of elderly patients with multiple diseases. Paper II presents a confidential survey study from a random sample of 400 Swedish cardiologists. Paper III presents a prospective, clinical, observational multicentre-study of elderly patients with myocardial infarction (NSTEMI). Paper IV presents a questionnaire study from a purposeful, stratified sample of Swedish cardiologists.The results from Paper I show that elderly patients with multiple diseases have extensive and complex needs, frequently manifesting chronic and intermittently acute disease and consuming health care at various levels. A large majority have manifested cardiovascular disease. Results from Paper II indicate that although 81% of cardiologists reported extensive use of national guidelines in their clinical decision-making generally, the individual clinician’s personal clinical experience and the patient’s views were used to a greater extent than national guidelines, when making decisions about elderly multiple-diseased patients. Many elderly heart disease patients with complex needs manifest severe, acute or chronic, comorbid conditions that constitute exclusion criteria in evidence-generating studies, thereby limiting the generalisability of evidence and applicability of guidelines for these patients. This was indicated in papers I-IV. Paper III reports that frailty is a strong independent risk factor for adverse, short-term, clinical outcomes, e.g. one-month mortality for elderly NSTEMI patients. Particularly frail patients with a high comorbidity burden manifested a markedly increased risk.In the future, prospective clinical studies and registries with few exclusion criteria should be conducted. Consensus-based judgments based on a framework for priority setting as regards elderly patients with complex needs may offer an alternative, estimating the benefitrisk ratio of an intervention and the time-frame of expected benefits in relation to expected life-time. Such a framework, which is tentatively outlined in this thesis, should take into account comorbidity, frailty, and disease-specific risk.
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