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Why Everyone Should Care About Palliative Care

Takeaways from the New National Consensus Project Guidelines, 4th Edition

In years past, the term “palliative care” wasn’t heard very often in most healthcare settings. It was considered the type of care delivered only by specialists, and was limited to the care people receive at the end of their lives. That’s all changing, thanks in part to the new edition of the National Consensus Project Guidelines. Get ready for palliative care to go mainstream.

The National Consensus Project (NCP) Clinical Practice Guidelines for Quality Palliative Care, 4th edition, were published on October 31, 2018. The Guidelines were developed by the National Consensus Project for Quality Palliative Care, a group that includes 16 national organizations with extensive expertise and experience in palliative care. More than 80 national organizations, representing a variety of stakeholders in healthcare, have endorsed the new edition, and it’s catching on.

Key Takeaways

We hope you’ll take the time to read the full NCP Guidelines and benefit from the tools, resources, and practice examples included in the new edition, but these are some key take-aways:

1) Quality palliative care should be accessible to all people with serious illness

The NCP Guidelines encourage providers to integrate palliative care principles into the services they provide for all people with serious illness, regardless of the person’s diagnosis, prognosis, age, or even the care setting. Basically, palliative care is important for everyone with a serious illness, everywhere, all the time. This hasn’t happened yet in many healthcare systems, but the call for action has been issued.

2) ALL clinicians should learn core skills and acquire knowledge in palliative care principles

Palliative care should be delivered across all care settings, and that requires all clinicians to learn some core skills including advance care planning. Quality of life improves when palliative care principles are integrated into the care of seriously ill people and their families from an early point in their care. Of course, there is a difference between primary palliative care and specialty palliative care, and clinicians should also learn when to refer to trained specialists for help with complex situations.

3) Communication is a key theme in quality care

Communication with seriously ill people and their families is emphasized throughout all the domains covered in the NCP Guidelines. Though it seems obvious that communication is central to quality care, sometimes training, work-flows, and processes don’t always support clear, compassionate communication in practice – and they should. The communication skills emphasized in the NCP Guidelines help us understand who we are caring for, what they want, and how we might best meet their needs.

4) Care should focus on patient and family goals, values, and preferences

Palliative care practices are defined throughout the NCP Guidelines as being focused on what is most important to the patient and family, and the plan of care should be built around their needs, values, expectations, and goals. For these person- and family-centered principles to be applied in practice, clinicians need to learn how to elicit patients’ values and preferences, and discuss them as they relate to medical care decisions and options.

The NCP Guidelines include tools, resources and examples to help you consider how you might align your care delivery with the recommendations, and how to effectively implement the practices. The NCP Guidelines are widely endorsed and likely to be widely adopted, because palliative care principles are proven to support quality, person-centered care that achieves clinical, organizational, and community outcomes we all want to deliver. In other words, if you haven’t yet begun to incorporate basic palliative care principles into your services for seriously ill patients, get ready!

Advance Care Planning: A Step to Incorporate Palliative Care

One great way to incorporate palliative care principles is to heighten your focus on advance care planning (ACP). ACP is a core service of palliative care that includes many of the best practices and recommendations in the NCP Guidelines. Advance care planning is appropriate in all care settings, involves meaningful and ongoing communication about what is most important to patients and families, and explores values and goals and how they impact care preferences. The Five Wishes® advance care planning program is a perfect solution. It’s a comprehensive, turn-key advance care planning program that allows you to use whatever components you need, without having to develop any content.

To help you get started, the Five Wishes® courses, available through the Relias learning management system (LMS), are high-quality advance care planning training modules that cover the core components of advance care planning, keys to developing communication skills, and tips for building an effective ACP program. This series of three modules can help you learn core palliative care skills that enhance your ability to provide person and family-centered care. The training series is a component of the full Five Wishes® program, known for its holistic approach, focus on communication and humanistic values, and simplicity and ease of use. It’s the program clinicians use with their own families, because it works.  Five Wishes® is listed as a resource in the NCP Guidelines to help you implement the practices, so you know you’re on the right track.

The NCP Guidelines are a great step for healthcare. By promoting primary palliative care practices in all settings, they can increase access for seriously ill patients and their families needing relief from the symptoms and stress of an illness.


You can learn more about the NCP Guidelines by watching our webinar, New Wave of Palliative Care: Not Just for Specialists.

Download this fact sheet for additional information on advance care planning.

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