Palliative Care Symptom Management in The Emergency Department: The ABC's of Symptom Management for The Emergency Physician

Mari Siegel, Suzanne Bigelow
Journal of Emergency Medicine 2018, 54 (1): 25-32

BACKGROUND: Palliative care is a rapidly evolving area of emergency medicine. With an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 baby boomers per day reaching retirement age, emergency departments (EDs) are treating more patients with chronic and serious disease. Palliative care offers comprehensive care for patients with advanced medical illness, aims to alleviate suffering and improve quality of life, and plays an important role in caring for these patients in the ED.

OBJECTIVES: We sought to increase the emergency physician's knowledge of and comfort with symptom control in palliative and hospice patients.

DISCUSSION: Having the skills to deliver efficient and appropriate palliative and hospice care is imperative for emergency physicians. Palliative care should be considered in any patient suffering from symptoms of a life-limiting illness, whereas hospice care should be considered in the patient with likely <6 months left to live. Palliative care is appropriate earlier in the course of disease, and is appropriate when the practitioner would not be surprised if the patient died in the next 2 years ("The Surprise Question"). This article discusses management in the ED of pain, nausea, dyspnea, agitation, and oral secretions in patients appropriate for hospice and palliative care.

CONCLUSION: The need for palliative and hospice care in the ED is increasing, requiring that emergency physicians be familiar with palliative and hospice care and competent in the delivery of rapid symptom management in patients with severe and life-limiting disease.


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