Palliative care is not just about death and dying

Pal care

Current misconceptions that still surround palliative care mean many Australians are missing out on the high-quality palliative care that they deserve.

Professor Peter Hudson, Director of St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne’s Centre for Palliative Care, says that access to palliative care is a human right.

“When palliative care is provided early in a patient’s treatment of a serious illness, we know that it has many demonstrable benefits for the patients, their families and the health care system as a whole,” says Prof Hudson.

“Sadly, for both medical professionals and the general public, the term conjures images of death and dying and is associated with a loss of control or abandoning of hope. For many patients diagnosed with a serious illness, they don’t receive appropriate integration of palliative care early enough in treatment, resulting in poorer outcomes for them and their families.”

Addressing misconceptions

To address these misconceptions, Professor Peter Hudson and a group of senior palliative care clinicians and academics from St Vincent’s Centre for Palliative Care and The University of Melbourne developed a strategy and recommendations to reframe palliative care.

Published in the Medical Journal of Australia, the literature review looked at the definitional issues of palliative care to develop an operational definition and conceptual framework to underpin access to palliative care.

The framework specifies that access to palliative care may be considered at three points: (1) early palliative care (“death is possible”), (2) mid-stage palliative care (“death is probable”), and (3) late-stage palliative care (“death is imminent”). In addition, patient and family needs for care will prompt integration at any point in the illness.

“One of the key messages we are seeking to convey in the article is a recognition that palliative care is not just about death and dying. It should be offered earlier on in the illness trajectory and can be provided alongside curative treatment, where pertinent,” says Prof Hudson.

“Palliative care, effectively delivered, can restore choice regarding options for care in serious illness, improve a sense of control and independence, and provide a peace of mind that patients and families cherish,” adds Prof Hudson.

The open access article published in the Medical Journal of Australia is available to read.