Jessica Nutik Zitter, M.D., is an attending physician at Alameda Health System’s Highland Hospital in Oakland and specializes in palliative care. But to the world she’s known as an expert on the one thing that most people don’t want to think about: death. She’s written columns for The New York Times and other media centered on improving end-of-life care in the United States and how to keep patients informed about the process. She’s also the co-founder of Vital Decisions, an agency that provides phone-based counseling for near-death patients. She’s also currently working on a book about the experience of death and dying in America, based on her research and personal experience working in intensive care units.

Medical Guide: So what does it mean to have a good death?
Jessica Nutik Zitter: It means different things to different people; you can’t really generalize what a good death means, because it’s so personal. For one person, it might mean having their family nearby, and not being in pain. For another person, it might mean being able to be in their home, even if they’re not able to communicate or take care of themselves. There are so many different factors that will define a good death for each person.  It’s really easy to think that it’s an open and shut thing, like “good death versus bad death.” I don’t think it’s that simple at all. Most doctors that I know really care about their patients, and I think that it’s very complex to achieve a good death, because everyone’s so different. It requires a huge investment in time, intense discussion, and really digging in. It requires collaborative work, and expecting to wrestle with decisions. They’re never as simple or as easy as we wish they were. But you can have a huge impact on making death a better experience.

MG: How do you ultimately make that assessment to determine how to ensure someone’s highest quality of life when her or she is dying? (…) Read Full Article Here

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