Hospitalists lead, coordinate, and participate in initiatives to improve the identification and treatment of patients and families in need of palliative care. Yet we often lack the knowledge and skills necessary to provide outstanding palliative care; we may also lack the comfort level we need to take care of patients at that stage of illness.
Steve Pantilat, MD, SHM president and member of the SHM Education Committee, established the Palliative Care Task Force to identify and create opportunities to improve palliative care in the field of hospital medicine. The Palliative Care Task Force had its inaugural meeting in August. Led by founder Dr. Pantilat and Chad Whelan, MD, Palliative Care Task Force chair, the task force established the following goals:
- Promote palliative care as an important skill and activity for hospital medicine physicians and providers;
- Identify and create palliative-care-focused educational activities for hospital medicine physicians and other key stakeholders within hospital medicine;
- Advocate for the creation and or support of hospital-based palliative care services;
- Promote the use of best practices in palliative care; and
- Develop a core community of hospital medicine physicians dedicated to improving our understanding of palliative care.
Our current task force membership is small but energetic. We actively recruit members, particularly nonphysicians and non-SHM members. Palliative care is a multidisciplinary field, and we hope the Palliative Care Task Force membership will reflect this diversity. Potential areas of growth include pharmacists, nurses, social workers, spiritual care providers, and nonhospitalist physicians. We are also looking for a pediatrician with an interest in palliative care to represent the pediatric interests among SHM members.
Since the first meeting in August our members have been developing a plan to achieve our identified goals. While the plan is still early in its development, we have designed a multimodal approach that will rely on traditional CME meetings, print media, as well as electronic media.
The task force’s short-term goals include promoting best practices in palliative care via SHM communication vehicles. For example, we plan to propose a series of articles for the forthcoming Journal of Hospital Medicine to highlight key issues in palliative care.
The 2006 SHM Annual Meeting will feature two workshops with a palliative care focus. One workshop will discuss how to build the case for a palliative care service; the other will address issues in pain management for hospitalized patients. We will learn from the 2006 experience as we look toward the 2007 SHM Annual Meeting in Texas. An electronic CME module is also under development.
Finally, we are planning an electronic compendium of resources and tools for practicing high-quality palliative care. Although the format has not been finalized, the concept is to provide resources that will make caring for palliative care patients as easy as possible.
While we are pleased with the progress of the task force to date, there is still much to do. Hospital medicine physicians can and should serve as leaders to improve palliative care. Traditional medical training focuses our efforts and thoughts of curing and preventing. We’ve all felt the exhilaration of making a life-saving diagnosis on the young, otherwise healthy patient; however, just as there are times to look for a cure at all costs, there are also times when we must treat our patients’ symptoms at all costs.