Palliative Care for Seriously Ill Patients

The following blog comes from Sandy Severson, AzHHA VP of Care Improvement. Here she shares her thoughts about palliative care in Arizona and the resources that Thoughtful Life Conversations offers to the healthcare community in an effort to make our state the Healthiest State in the Nation.

November is National Hospice & Palliative Care Month and seems like the right time to highlight that confusion remains about what palliative care is. The confusion is understandable since palliative care is a fairly new speciality and is not offered widely. While both hospice and palliative care focus on a holistic approach to relieve suffering, hospice serves the dying. Palliative care focuses more broadly on improving life to anyone with serious, chronic, and life-threatening illnesses.

Patients and consumers are a target of the monthlong awareness campaign as organizations across the nation host events and push communication regarding the importance of utilizing these services at the right time. There is more to be done among providers and clinicians when it comes to palliative care.

The recent Arizona Physician Survey found that a lack of training in end of life care was a barrier resulting in only 55% of respondents reporting that they refer their patients to palliative care. Additionally, while two out of every three Arizona hospitals offered palliative care in 2013 and that was good enough to earn our state a “B” on a nationwide study, there’s not enough trained providers to meet the demand. While Palliative Care is most often offered in the hospital the big demand is in the outpatient setting.

Specialists in palliative care provide an added layer of support towards maximizing patient and family quality of life during serious illness, however palliative care knowledge and skills should be core competencies for all health professionals serving seriously ill patients and their families and caregivers. AzHHA’s Thoughtful Life Conversation program offers a core clinical competency course for primary palliative care providers on communication.

Communications in Serious Illness is an evidence based proven communication strategy to assess patient understanding of their prognosis, explore goals of care to better understand their values and priorities for shared decision making on their plan of care. These courses are provided free across Arizona through the generous support of the Lovell Foundation.

For those readers who are patients or caregivers, have you or a loved one received palliative care? Was it offered to you or did you request it? For those who work in healthcare, how is it received when you mention palliative care to your patients and their families? Comment below and share what your experience has been. Promoting an open dialog will minimize confusion about what tools are available in healthcare and what care is appropriate.

For more information on classes or to host one at your organization go to Thoughtful Life Conversations or contact

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