Dr. Jessica Zitter

LinkedIn Healthcare Channel

I have been a critical care physician for over twenty years. Over that time, I have cared for thousands of patients.  Some I have saved, and celebrated as they left the hospital to resume their lives. Others have died, as one would expect with patients suffering from serious illness.

But too many have been kept alive using the tools of my trade, and then sent off to live in institutions– connected to machines by catheters, their arms often tied down so as to prevent dislodgment of the tubes keeping them alive. They cannot eat or speak, and usually live in a state of delirium or confusion. Data show that, for most of us, this would not be considered a life worth living.

Unfortunately, the number of people in this condition is on the rise. In a sense, we have the perfect storm: doctors and patients alike believe in the miraculous powers of our technologies, yet patients don’t really understand what they’re signing up for.

To avoid this automatic overtreatment, and to ensure that we all receive the care we actually want at the end of life, it is critically important to be prepared.  Here are five lessons I’ve learned along the way.

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