Hospice and Palliative Medicine: New Subspecialty, New Opportunities

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Palliative care is the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual care provided to patients from diagnosis to death or resolution of a life-threatening illness. Hospice care is a comprehensive program of care that is appropriate when patients with chronic, progressive, and eventually fatal illness are determined to have a prognosis of 6 months or fewer. Hospice and palliative medicine has now been recognized by the American Board of Medical Subspecialties as a field with a unique body of knowledge and practice. With 9 other specialty boards, the American Board of Emergency Medicine has cosponsored hospice and palliative medicine as an official subspecialty. As a result, board-certified emergency physicians may now pursue certification in hospice and palliative medicine through either fellowship training or, for a limited time, completing practice track requirements, followed by a written examination in the subspecialty.

As the practice of palliative medicine grows in hospitals, emergency physicians can develop a core of generalist palliative medicine skills for use with adults and children. These would include assessing and communicating prognoses, managing the relief of pain and other distressing symptoms, helping articulate goals of patient care, understanding ethical and legal requirements; and ensuring the provision of culturally appropriate spiritual care in the last hours of living. Front-line emergency physicians possessing these basic palliative medicine skills will be able to work collaboratively with subspecialty physicians who are dually certified in emergency medicine and hospice and palliative medicine. Together, generalist and specialist emergency physicians can advance research, education, and policy in this new field to reach the common goals of high-quality, efficient, evidence-based palliative care in the emergency department.



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