July 31, 2014
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Poll shows 25 million older adults received unwanted medical care

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About 25 million older Americans have been subjected to unwanted or excessive medical treatments, according to new survey data.

The research was sponsored by Compassion & Choices, a nonprofit, end-of-life patient advocacy group. A poll of 1,007 individuals aged 50 years and older was conducted by Purple Insights, a research division of Purple Strategies.

Almost one out of four polled said they or a family member had experienced excessive or unwanted medical treatments. Compassion & Choices reports that this is equivalent to about 25 million Americans.

Unwanted medical treatment received personally or given to a family member was reported by 12% of respondents, and 19% reported receipt of treatments — either personally or to a family member — they characterized as excessive.

“Twenty-five million Americans receiving excessive or unwanted medical treatment is 25 million Americans too many. This survey demonstrates that older Americans clearly trust their doctors, but they also expect them to honor their end-of-life medical wishes,” Daniel Wilson, national and federal programs director for Compassion & Choices, said in a press release.

Many of the study participants said they would take action if they received unwanted treatment. Fifty percent of respondents said they would change doctors if they received unwanted care, 41% said they would take legal action, and an equal number said they would contact the American Medical Association. Forty percent said they would not pay for the treatment, and almost as many (38%) said they would fight the charges through their insurance company. Only 6% of the study participants said they would take no action at all.

Polling questions were not limited to queries about unwanted treatment and procedures. When asked how important it was to have their end of life choices honored, 82% of respondents reported it was very important. However, only 57% said they would feel “very angry” if their end-of-life medical wishes were not followed, with 22% reporting they would feel “somewhat angry.”

Fifty percent favored strongly withholding payment from physicians or facilities for treatments that conflicted with their end-of-life decisions, with another 15% not strongly in favor. Only 21% opposed taking such measures.

“We cannot put the entire burden on consumers, especially on seniors, to protect themselves from unwanted care during a medical crisis,” Compassion & Choices chief program officer Mickey MacIntyre, said in the release. “We need carrot-and-stick policies that encourage medical providers to learn their patients’ end-of-life healthcare wishes, and to honor them.”