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Pacific NW More Supportive of End of Life Care Options


  • Published: 2011-07-07 : Author: The Regence Foundation
  • Synopsis: Support for palliative care options is even stronger, with nearly all Washington and Oregon voters saying it is important to have access to palliative care.

Pacific NW More Supportive of End-of-Life Care Options Than Other Americans.

A poll of registered voters in the Pacific Northwest released today by National Journal and The Regence Foundation finds that Washington and Oregon residents are considerably more open to end-of-life options than the overall American public. However, while the poll showed strong support for options like palliative care, respondents weren't familiar with the term palliative care and were unsure how to access it.

The poll is the second in a three-part series called "Living Well at the End of Life: A National Conversation," which is dedicated to exploring Americans' attitudes and approaches toward end-of-life.

According to the poll, Washingtonians and Oregonians are more likely than the rest of the nation to believe that enhancing the quality of life for seriously ill patients is more important than extending it for as long as possible. When the same question was posed in February to Americans as a whole, 71% professed that belief, compared to 83% for Washington and 85% for Oregon. People in the Pacific Northwest are also more likely than other Americans to say the health care system spends too much money trying to extend the lives of seriously ill patients, as opposed believing the system has the responsibility to spend whatever it takes to extend life.

"The Northwest is the region of the country that has grappled most directly with the complex and emotional issues surrounding care for people at the end of life," said National Journal editorial director Ronald Brownstein. "And this survey shows that most people in these states are comfortable with an approach that emphasizes not just the duration, but also the quality, of life - though they share the concerns we've seen nationally about cost, information and control at this difficult and vulnerable juncture for families."

Washingtonians and Oregonians are also overwhelmingly supportive of local legislation that has created more opportunities for end-of-life care options, including the POLST physician directive on life sustaining care and the Death with Dignity Act allowing for physician-assisted suicide.

Support for palliative care options is even stronger, with nearly all Washington and Oregon voters saying it's important to have access to palliative care. However, even in states like Washington and Oregon where the dialog about palliative care has been more extensive than arguably anywhere else in the country, questions remain. About half of respondents in both states said palliative care is "available, but only if you know where to look and who to ask."

"For the past several years The Regence Foundation has been working to improve access to palliative care in the Northwest," said Peggy Maguire, Regence Foundation board president, "and the results from this survey confirm what we've believed all along - that North-westerners are incredibly supportive of end-of-life care options and amazingly open to talking about them. As the poll shows, however, the real challenge lies with implementation and consistency in connecting patients with the information and care options they need at end-of-life."

The poll's results will be discussed in-depth today at a National Journal LIVE event in Seattle featuring Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and a panel of health policy experts. Watch live online at 8:00am Pacific/11:00am Eastern at www.nationaljournal.com/video.

The poll's top-line results can be viewed here (PDF). Key survey findings include:

1. The public in Washington and Oregon have a considerably more progressive attitude towards end-of-life issues than the overall American public.

83% of voters in Washington and 85% in Oregon believe that it is more important to enhance quality of life instead of extending it through every means possible. In the national poll National Journal and the Regence Foundation conducted in February, 71% of Americans took the same position.

Pluralities in Washington and in Oregon say that the health care system spends too much trying to extend lives versus the system having the means and responsibility to spend whatever it takes (WA: 47%-44%, OR: 50%-35%). This runs contrary to what was found in the national poll (37%-55%).

Majorities in both states disagree with concerns that palliative care could interfere with doing whatever it takes to extend lives (WA: 59% disagree, OR: 55% disagree). Nationally, opinions were split on this matter (47% agree - 49% disagree).

2. Despite more extensive conversations about end-of-life care in the Pacific Northwest, familiarity with the term "palliative care" is low. However, support for the concept is very strong.

Only 26% in Washington and 32% in Oregon said they were familiar with the term. This is only slightly higher than the national percentage from the February poll of 24%.

Once "palliative care" was defined for the poll respondents, 97% of those in Washington and 96% of those in Oregon said it is important for their states to have palliative care options.

More than 85% of respondents in both states said palliative care should be covered by both health insurance and Medicare.

3. Despite a strong preference for them, Pacific North-westerners are not confident about access to palliative care options.

Less than half of Washington voters (46%) and Oregon voters (46%) say they believe doctors and other health care professionals do a good enough job to talking with patients about palliative care options.

52% of Washington voters and 48% of Oregon voters say information about palliative care is "available, but only if you know where to look or who to ask."

47% of Washington voters and 43% of Oregon voters say they believe palliative care treatment options are "available, but only for patients with the right insurance or resources.

4. There is strong support in the Pacific Northwest for end-of-life policies that have already been implemented.

After an explanation of the policy, 85% of Washington voters and 91% of Oregon voters say they have a favorable view of POLST programs allowing patients to legally document their wishes for end-of-life care.

After an explanation of the policy, 70% of Washington voters and 77% of Oregon voters have a favorable view of their state's Death with Dignity Act, allowing for physician-assisted suicide.

Note: This survey was conducted by FD among 600 registered voters each in Oregon and Washington. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.0% percent in 95 out of 100 cases in each state.

About The Regence Foundation - The Regence Foundation is the corporate foundation of Regence, the largest health insurer in the Northwest/Intermountain region and a nonprofit independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. A 501(c)3 grant-making organization, the Foundation partners with organizations driving significant change in health care delivery and accessibility in Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Through its Sojourns® program, the Foundation also supports organizations advancing quality palliative and end-of-life care. For more information, visit www.RegenceFoundation.org or www.twitter.com/RegenceGives.

About National Journal - Long regarded as the most trusted voice in the Beltway, National Journal is Washington's premier source of nonpartisan insight on politics and policy, conveyed with intelligence, depth, and speed. National Journal Group properties include National Journal, National Journal Daily, NationalJournal.com, The Hotline, The Almanac of American Politics, and Global Security Newswire.

About FD - One of the most highly regarded consultancies in the communications industry, FD employs more than 750 staff and advises more than 1,000 clients worldwide through its hub offices in London and New York, as well as its network of wholly owned offices in Bahrain, Beijing, Bogota, Boston, Brussels, Cape Town, Chicago, Dubai, Dublin, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Los Angeles, Manchester, Melbourne, Moscow, Panama City, Paris, San Francisco, Shanghai, Sydney and Washington, DC. With a 20-year history of advising clients in both the private and public sectors, FD's services include financial public relations, capital markets communications, public affairs, crisis and issues management and corporate, business-to-business and business-to-consumer communications. FD is also a market leader in M&A advisory work. FD is structured around specialist sector teams operating on an international basis, covering consumer industries, financial services, basic industries, business services, life sciences & healthcare, media, real estate, technology and telecommunications. FD is a division of FTI Consulting Inc. (NYSE: FCN), the global business advisory firm. For more information, please visit www.fd.com

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