Palliative care is the comprehensive management of patients' physical, psychological, social, spiritual and existential needs. It can be part of the treatment of any person with a serious or life-threatening medical condition for which a patient-centered approach, pain and symptom control, family involvement and compassionate care are needed. The following Precepts of Palliative Care, developed by the Last Acts Palliative Care Task Force, affirm a vision of better care at the end of life:
Respecting patient goals, preferences and choices
Utilizing the strengths of interdisciplinary resources
Acknowledging and addressing caregiver concerns
Building systems and mechanisms of support
Palliative care affirms life and regards dying as a natural process that is a profoundly personal experience for the individual and family. Palliative care neither hastens nor postpones death, but rather seeks to relieve suffering, control symptoms and restore functional capacity while remaining sensitive to personal, cultural and religious values, beliefs and practices.
One need not be dying to benefit from palliative care. It is valuable at any time during a serious illness. Hospice is one form of palliative care. And like hospice, palliative care can be provided in a variety of settings including the hospital, the nursing home and the patient's own home.
The intensity and range of palliative interventions may change as an illness progresses and the complexity of care increases. Eventually, the focus shifts to the process of dying, with emphasis on end-of-life decision making and achieving a death that is consistent with the values and expressed desires of the patient. Palliative care guides patients and families as they journey through the changing goals of care and helps the patient who wishes to address issues of life completion and closure.
Palliative care is distinguished among clinical specialties in acknowledging that dying is a normal part of the life of every individual and every family. Because a family's experience of terminal illness and a loved one's passing does not end at the moment of death, palliative care extends support for the family in their grief.
A typical hospice or palliative care team may include one or more doctors, nurses, social workers, home health aides, pharmacists, chaplains, and physical and occupational therapists. Increasingly, teams also call upon the skills and services of complementary therapists. Trained volunteers are critically important resources of palliative care teams.