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Perm J. 2014 Spring;18(2):77-85. doi: 10.7812/TPP/13-103. Epub 2014 Mar 31.

Palliative care in the emergency department.

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Hospitalist and Palliative Care Physician at the Santa Clara Medical Center in CA.
Internal Medicine Resident at the Santa Clara Medical Center in CA.


The Emergency Department (ED) is the place where people most frequently seek urgent care. For patients living with chronic disease or malignancy who may be in a crisis, this visit may be pivotal in determining the patients' trajectory. There is a large movement in education of emergency medicine physicians, hospitalists, and intensivists from acute aggressive interventions to patient-goal assessment, recognizing last stages of life and prioritizing symptom management. Although the ED is not considered an ideal place to begin palliative care, hospital-based physicians may assist in eliciting the patient's goals of care and discussing prognosis and disease trajectory. This may help shift to noncurative treatment. This article will summarize the following: identification of patients who may need palliation, discussing prognosis, eliciting goals of care and directives, symptom management in the ED, and making plans for further care. These efforts have been shown to improve outcomes and to decrease length of stay and cost. The focus of this article is relieving "patient" symptoms and family distress, honoring the patient's goals of care, and assisting in transition to a noncurative approach and placement where this may be accomplished.

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