Increasingly, hospitals are making palliative care a priority; and more hospitalists are getting involved in providing these services and taking the lead on establishing and facilitating palliative care programs. Among the growing evidence that hospitalists are viewed as key players in the proliferation of hospital palliative care programs is the appointment of Steven Pantilat, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine, to the newly established Alan M. Kates and John M. Burnard Endowed Chair in Palliative Care at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF).
The chair is the first palliative care chair in the University of California system and only the fifth nationwide. The endowment provides funding for salary support and efforts to build clinical, educational, research, and training components of the UCSF palliative care program. “This chair is important because hospitalists are often the main source of hospital palliative care services,” explains Dr. Pantilat. “Because I am a hospitalist, I understand the needs of these practitioners.”
Numerous Plans, Expectations
Dr. Pantilat has several expectations for what the chair will enable him to accomplish. “We hope to improve palliative care for patients, contribute to the field in terms of research and educational initiatives, and help UC advance in these areas,” he says. “Our main goal is to develop a world-class palliative care program that will advance the field in terms of education, research, and patient care and to provide the highest quality care to patients with life-threatening illness. This will provide seed money to develop educational and research programs that require some early investment when they are just ideas.”
There is a tremendous need for more and better palliative care in the hospital setting. “Patients have many needs, including management of symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, and fatigue,” he says. “There isn’t nearly enough research or information on these problems as compared to pain. We need more studies on the best way to treat symptoms.”
Additionally, Dr. Pantilat hopes to add to the body of literature on patient-physician communication, suggesting that hospitalists and other physicians need information about how to communicate sensitive issues such as bad news and how best to support patients and families throughout illnesses and fill their palliative care needs.
“We hope to develop and encourage more education and training on these topics,” he says. Stressing that there already are good educational programs about palliative care topics, Dr. Pantilat notes the need for more instruction specific to the unique needs of hospitalized patients and the hospitalists who care for them.