Palliative Care

Providing exceptional specialized medical care to patients with a serious illness (or multiple illnesses) is a necessary reality for many physicians. The focus of palliative care is to provide relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness while also improving the quality of life for both the patient and the patient's family. Palliative care assists increasing numbers of people with chronic, debilitating, and life-limiting illnesses. This care is provided within a variety of settings: hospitals, home health organizations, and hospices. There are multiple providers and teams of physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains, counselors, nursing assistants, rehabilitation therapists, specialists, speech and language pathologists, and other healthcare professionals involved in providing palliative care needs.

One of the main concerns with palliative care and the care given by multiple care-givers is the coordination of continuity of care across settings throughout the disease continuum. It is imperative that all physicians, counselors, therapists, and other healthcare professionals stay abreast of any changes in a patient's care or diagnosis. Keeping the patient aware of decision making is essential to successful communication throughout the duration of palliative care. Guidelines for Quality Palliative Care are continually revised in order to evolve with the continuing progression in available palliative care. Because palliative care continues to move into mainstream care, it is vital that all persons involved in the care of patients with serious illnesses understand the main concerns and focus of palliative care.

With the many new programs developing in providing palliative care, it is more important than ever to assure consistency among care-givers. Palliative care must continue to grow in response to each individual patient living with chronic, debilitating, and life-limiting illness. The inherent interdisciplinary nature of palliative care requires that consistency remain at the forefront of each patient's care. This consistency is best achieved through close coordination and partnerships among all disciplines in a palliative care program. Genuine and intentional coordination of care across settings must be made mandatory between providers during any times of transition or changing needs. Patients and family members also acquire ongoing information in regards to how treatment plays out with their cultural and religious beliefs and influences. Pain and symptom control, psychosocial distress, spiritual issues, and practical needs are to be continually addressed with the patient and family throughout the continuum of care.

"Palliative care means patient and family-centered care that optimizes quality of life by anticipating, preventing, and treating suffering. Palliative care throughout the continuum of illness involves addressing physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual needs and to facilitate patient autonomy, access to information, and choice (Federal Register 2008)." This definition in use by the NQF and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) must be combined with the continuity of communication between care-givers in order to provide the highest standard in palliative care.