Medical social workers play an integral role as support for patients and their families at the end of a patient’s life. Most physicians are not equipped to handle the emotional aspects at the end of life. Therefore, more often than not, medical social workers are the principal health care professional involved in educating, mediating, and coordinating end of life plans. In this capacity, medical social workers are charged with informing patients and their families about end-of-life decisions and providing counseling around these issues. Medical social workers must understand the terminology, technology, and legal issues that can dictate end-of-life care.
Consider the following cases:
End-of-Life Care: Case 1
Roger is a 43-year-old African American male diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and renal failure. He was recently admitted to the intensive care unit and put on a ventilator due to medical deterioration. The doctors inform his wife that there is no chance that his condition will improve and explain that he is being kept alive by the machines. Roger’s wife is distraught but knows that Roger did not want to be kept alive by a machine. The medical social worker goes to Roger’s chart and finds his medical power of attorney. Roger’s wife is listed as his agent; however, the document was not signed by two witnesses as required.
End-of-Life Care: Case 2
Margaret is a 72-year-old female with severe cardiovascular disease. She is admitted to the hospital after a stroke. There is no indication that she will recover and, if so, to what level of functioning. The doctors have informed her family that she is experiencing cardiac issues that might lead to heart failure. Should this happen, the doctors will have to take efforts to resuscitate her. The medical social worker and the doctor meet with the family to discuss a do not resuscitate order. The family is completely overwhelmed. They do not fully understand what the doctor is saying and they are in disagreement about what to do.
To prepare for this Discussion, review this week’s resources including the case studies. Select one of the cases. Think about the end-of-life issues including living wills or medical power of attorney.
By Day 3
Post an explanation of how you as a medical social worker would handle the case you selected. Explain the services you might offer to the family within the applicable laws and your scope of practice. Explain the methods and practices you might employ to educate this family regarding the legal issues surrounding the case. Then, explain the purpose, benefits, and legal ramifications of living wills, medical power of attorney, and advance directives. Finally, explain the advocacy role you might play on behalf of the patient and patient’s family in this case.