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Specialist Palliative Care



Palliative care is a health care model – an approach to care – that is needed by every patient who is living with a serious or life-threatening illness. The goal of palliative care is to reduce the burden of illness that is experienced by both the patient and the patient’s family from the time of diagnosis onward.

Specialist palliative care is delivered by a team of trained professionals. Specialist palliative care programs for patients living at home or in nursing homes are only now emerging in the US. This community-based, specialist palliative care is essential to provide high quality care for patients and families, whenever and wherever they need it.

Palliative care focuses on:

  • Controlling pain and other symptoms
  • Reducing emotional distress and spiritual concerns
  • Coordinating care, so that all health care professionals involved with the patient pursue the same goals, ensuring the best possible care and patient experience
  • Understanding, respecting and communicating the patient’s preferences and goals so that care is medically appropriate, culturally sensitive and consistent with the patient’s wishes
  • Addressing the needs of the family

All health professionals caring for patients with serious illness try to reduce the burden of illness – this is called “generalist palliative care.” When problems are complex or severe, however, patients and families should have access to “specialist palliative care.”

Referral for specialist palliative care should be available at any point during the course of the disease, whenever the need arises.

Although specialist palliative care programs now exist in most hospitals, care in the community – at home or in nursing homes – is more challenging. Specialist palliative care may not be readily available there, except through referral to a hospice program. Unfortunately, many patients are not able to access hospice and many who are eligible never take advantage of the important services it provides.

Programs that provide specialist palliative care in the community are needed. The goal of the MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care is to leverage innovative research, quality improvement and education to ensure that every person and family coping with serious illness has access to evidence-based, specialist-level palliative care—whenever and wherever it is needed.

Hospice is a government benefit (also provided by many private insurance companies) that offers a broad array of services in the home or nursing home for patients who are eligible. Unfortunately, a large number of patients who meet eligibility requirements never access the benefit, and millions more are not eligible.