With more than 60 percent of U.S. hospitals with more than 50 beds reporting having a palliative care program and the Joint Commission awarding its first Advanced Certifications for Palliative Care, it is clear palliative and end-of-life care increasingly are being viewed as essential to high-quality health care. As chairman of the Circle of Life Award Committee, an award celebrating innovation and quality in palliative and end-of-life care, I've seen firsthand these programs become increasingly engrained and valued in the health care continuum, not just expanding in number, but moving upstream in the disease trajectory and reaching more patients across linked community-based service providers.

As hospitals transition to new models of health care delivery, palliative care should be a priority. The National Consensus Project for Quality Palliative Care describes the goal of palliative care as "… to prevent and relieve suffering and to support the best possible quality of life for patients and their families, regardless of the stage of the disease or the need for other therapies … ." In practice, hospitals document significant cost savings and increased patient and family satisfaction from palliative care services that provide appropriate and desired services.

As palliative care consult programs and services become more prevalent and sophisticated, palliative care should not be viewed as just for those at the end of life. Pain and symptom management expertise, goal clarification and care planning can support physicians and hospital staff and help many patients and families, particularly those managing chronic conditions. And, palliative care begun early brings great value to patients with terminal illnesses and their families.

Hospitals planning palliative care services or taking their existing services to a new level have extensive available resources:

  • Center to Advance Palliative Care (www.capc.org) and its online resources as well as its Palliative Care Leadership Centers
  • National Quality Forum's report, "A National Framework and Preferred Practices for Palliative and Hospice Care Quality" (http://bit.ly/HE6NHC)
  • National Consensus Project for Quality Palliative Care's Clinical Practice Guidelines for Palliative Care (http://www.nationalconsensusproject.org/guideline.pdf)
  • AHA's Committee on Performance Improvement's 2012 project on palliative and end-of-life care. Resources will be shared with the field when available.

And all hospitals — at all stages of palliative care involvement — can find ideas and inspiration from the Circle of Life honorees. Their stories, including updates from previous winners, can be found at www.aha.org/circleoflife.

I also would urge hospitals to help us learn about and share innovative palliative and end-of-life programs by applying for the Circle of Life Award. A streamlined 2013 application is available at www.aha.org/circleoflife.

Support for the award comes from the California HealthCare Foundation, Oakland, Calif., and the Archstone Foundation. Major sponsors of the award are the American Hospital Association, Catholic Health Association, and National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization & National Hospice Foundation. Other sponsors include the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, the National Association of Social Workers, and the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association.

High-quality, family and patient-centered palliative care can have a profound impact on our hospitals, our partners in health delivery, our communities, and our patients and their families and deserves to be incorporated into the full care continuum.

Steve Franey is president, Franey & Associates Consulting. Contact him at steve@franeyassociates.com.


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