Background: Just a few generations ago, most people died suddenly, at any age. Now, most die of serious chronic disease, after a substantial period of disability. The care system does not serve this burgeoning population well. However, two quality improvement (QI) collaboratives sponsored by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and the Center to Improve Care of the Dying set about making substantial improvements.
Insights gained: The participating organization teams in two Breakthrough Series collaboratives found it best to identify patients by asking "Would it be surprising for this patient to die in the next year? (or the next few months?)" All the teams used standard QI approaches, with an aim, measures, and changes to try in Plan-Do-Study-Act cycles. In the first collaborative, 42 (89%) of the 47 teams made important improvements in their care systems. Because of the strength of their changes, the high performance of their team, the administrative support they received, and their ability to partner with other agencies, 13 (27%) of the teams made substantial, measurable improvement during the collaborative. In the second collaborative, 29 (85%) of the 34 teams made key changes to their care system, and 16 (47%) of the teams made substantial, measurable improvement. Coordination across programs such as between a hospital and a long term care facility or hospice remained an elusive goal, and good care cannot become routine without financing and coverage reform.
Conclusion: Clinical providers can reliably make substantial improvements in end of life care, within a few months, and within current financing and regulation. Coordinated efforts in two Breakthrough Series produced generalizable insights.