Palliative care is a subcategory of Clinical Practices focused on improving quality of life for people living with serious illness. Serious illness is defined as “a condition that carries a high risk of mortality, negatively impacts quality of life and daily function, and/ or is burdensome in symptoms, treatments or caregiver stress.” Palliative care addresses and treats symptoms, supports patients’ families and loved ones, and through clear communication helps ensure that care aligns with patients’ preferences, values, and goals.
Palliative care is the responsibility of all Health Guardians and Clinicians. They should have the skills to provide “primary palliative care” including managing pain; treating dyspnea; identifying mood disorders; communicating about prognosis and patient preferences for care; and helping address spiritual distress. Randomized studies have shown that palliative care provided alongside disease-focused treatment can improve quality of life, promote symptom management, and even prolong life.
Near the end of life, palliative care may become the sole focus of care, but palliative care alongside cure-focused treatment or disease management is beneficial throughout the course of a serious illness, regardless of its prognosis. Palliative care includes management of physical symptoms, such as pain, dyspnea, nausea and vomiting, constipation, delirium, and agitation; emotional distress, such as depression, anxiety, and interpersonal strain; and existential distress, such as spiritual crisis.