Usually we operate on a Hip Fracture. We do that in order to: preserve Independent Living; or preserve independent ambulation in Assisted Living; or preserve assisted ambulation in a Care Facility; and always to preserve quality of life. But what if none of those goals are possible?
At the St Paul Geriatric Fracture Conference this month, it was proposed that alternative care to surgery is sometimes more humane and less costly to society – both laudable goals. The ideal care for a patient with a fractured hip is to thoroughly discuss all alternatives before proceeding to surgery.
Family and other caregivers should all join the patient for a relaxed discussion of the future, weighing quality of life issues radically changed by the usual loss of function / independence imposed by the fracture. Only after concensus is reached, should surgery proceed – if that is the chosen path.
Unfortunately, the clock is ticking. The likelihood of death, medical complications of the fracture, medical complications of surgery, and permanent disabilities begin to increase only 12 hours after fracture. Gathering all interested parties and making informed life-changing decisions within that time limit is very challenging.
Ideally the patient, family, care-givers and primary physician have discussed the possibility of fracture and come to tentative decisions about what sorts of care are desired. This is especially true for patients who already cannot ambulate, are becoming demented, or have a limited quality of life.
Involve the patient in the decision while he/she can still express his/her desires. Written Advanced Directives are ideally on file with physician and hospital. Allow the patient to Take Control of his/her Future.
My wife and I have discussed our desires with our children. We have advanced directives on file. You should too.
Jay Ginther, MD