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3 Things All Clinicians Should Know About Palliative Care

By Debra Shute  
   October 20, 2016

Patients with serious illness don't always get the help managing symptoms that they could, but broadened awareness and skills development throughout healthcare teams can help.

Palliative care specialists are expert in providing patients and their family members with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness. Despite this seemingly narrow focus, however, the goals of palliative care are best achieved when all members of the healthcare team are well-informed.

End-of-Life Care in Hospitals Has a Long Way to Go

Here are three concepts about palliative care that all clinicians should understand.

1. Palliative care is not just for the dying.

The overwhelming majority of surveyed adults—about 80%—admit they don't know what palliative care means, according to R. Sean Morrison, MD, director of the Hertzberg Palliative Care Institute at the 1,171-bed Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and director of the National Palliative Care Research Center.

"When you ask the same question of physicians, they say they know what it is, but they get it wrong because they equate it with hospice or end of life."

Palliative care encompasses much more than care provided during patients' final moments. Nonetheless, it's common for physicians to feel anxious that patients or family members may misinterpret a referral for palliative care, says Mohana Karlekar, MD, medical director of palliative care at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN.

Debra Shute is the Senior Physicians Editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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