Many patients miss out on palliative care assessment before feeding tube placement, study finds

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The majority of hospitalized patients who undergo feeding tube placement do so without receiving a palliative care assessment first, a recent study has shown.

Researchers with Rutgers New Jersey Medical School analyzed the records of more than 200 patients who received a feeding tube, and found that only 12% had a palliative care assessment prior to the procedure. That number may be even lower across wider samples since Rutgers has a “strong palliative care presence,” lead researcher Ana Berlin, MPH, M.D., told Reuters on Tuesday.

Patients at other hospitals who do receive an assessment often have lower rates of gastrostomy tube placement, Berlin said.

Many patients are put on a feeding tube in order to be discharged to a long-term care facility, Berlin added. But between patients who are unable to make decisions for themselves, and family members who receive information on the procedure in technical terms that don't address quality of life issues, the tube can hinder patients' post-acute care goals.

Of the patients included in the study, 69% were discharged but unable to live on their own without post-acute care.

"If you have someone who has a devastating stroke and the question comes up of putting a feeding tube in them so they can go to rehab and it turns out the person would never have wanted to have been dependent on others to the degree anticipated . . . honestly, a feeding tube is not going to get them toward where they want to be," Berlin said.

The full results of the study were published in early December in Surgery.