Filling the gap: Hospitalists & palliative care


Most Americans diagnosed with serious illness will be hospitalized in their last months. During these hospitalizations, hospitalists direct their care.

For seriously ill patients, consultation with palliative care specialists has been shown to promote patient- and family-centered care, ensuring that care is consistent with patients’ goals, values, and preferences. Yet, many hospitalized patients lack access to palliative care consultation, and specialists have identified key domains of primary palliative care that can be delivered by nonspecialists.

Dr. Wendy G. Anderson

Dr. Wendy G. Anderson

There is now an important opportunity for hospitalists to lead prognosis and goals of care communication for their patients. To succeed in this role, hospitalists need training and structural support that may not yet be available to them.

To fill this gap, SHM’s Center for Quality Improvement partnered with The Hastings Center, a world-renowned bioethics research institution, to develop a resource room focused on hospitalists’ role in providing high-quality communication about prognosis and goals of care. The resource room presents a Prognosis and Goals of Care Communication Pathway, which highlights key processes and maps them onto the daily workflows of hospitalist physicians.

The care pathway is grounded in palliative care communication research and the consensus guidance of The Hastings Center Guidelines for Decisions on Life-Sustaining Treatment and Care Near the End of Life. It was informed by a national stakeholder meeting of hospitalists, other hospital clinicians, patient and family advocates, bioethicists, social scientists, and other experts, who identified professional values of hospital medicine aligned with communication as part of good care for seriously ill patients.

A collaborative interdisciplinary work group convened by SHM and including hospitalists, palliative medicine physicians, a bioethicist, and a palliative nursing specialist constructed the care pathway in terms of key processes occurring at admission, during hospitalization, and in discharge planning to support primary palliative care integration into normal workflow. The resource room also includes skills-building tools and resources for individual hospitals, teams, and institutions.

The work group will present a workshop on the care pathway at Hospital Medicine 2017: “Demystifying Difficult Decisions: Strategies and Skills to Equip Hospitalists for High-Quality Goals of Care Conversations with Seriously Ill Patients and Their Families.” For more information on the resource room, visit

Dr. Anderson is associate professor in residence in the division of hospital medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. She also serves as attending physician in the Palliative Care Program and codirector of the School of Nursing Interprofessional Palliative Care Training Program at UCSF.

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