Hospice cat is almost never wrong

Oscar, a hospice cat : Cat predicts 50 deaths in RI nursing homeYou may remember the story of the cat who almost unerringly predicts when a hospice patient is about to die.  The report was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

If you were wondering what happened to that cat (as, I'll admit, sometimes I do), prepare to be amazed: the cat continues to be very accurate in detecting when a patient is about to die. 

A new book is out by Dr. David Dosa, geriatrician out of Brown University.  Other cats at the inpatient hospice facility there have not shown any accuracy in predicting mortality, he says.

I am asked about prognosis very often, especially on the inpatient side.  People don't want a statistical answer or a blow-off, they want a concrete number, which of course is impossible to give.

So one lesson here is that Oscar, the cat, only "knows" when a patient is about to die in the last few hours.  He will curl up to the patient in bed only in their final few moments.  But he is almost never wrong once he selects a patient, and hospice workers use his cuddling habits as a sign to notify family.

So, you can be highly accurate about predicting mortality, but really only at the very end.  Even the most accurate predictor on the planet, currently a cat named Oscar, doesn't show any certainty until right before the end.  You can have your prognosis accurate or long-term, but not both, evidently.

Morley Safer with his golden retriever, Dora.Now on a side note, it looks like the "cancer sniffing dog" story has gone away.  Remember they were going to train dogs to smell the breath of patients to screen them for lung cancer?  That was bigtime in 2005, they even made a 60 Minutes piece about it, proving, yet again, they'll put almost any weird medical story on 60 Minutes (remember the Kanzius Machine?)  Haven't heard about that one for a few years.  So looks like despite having excellent sense of smell, dogs are not as useful medical tools as cats!