Critical Care Network
Palliative and End-of-Life Section
Symptoms at the end of life in patients with COPD are just as severe as in patients with advanced cancer (Solano JP, et al. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2006;31:). However, despite the high symptom burden, palliative care is less common in patients with COPD (Gore J, et al. Thorax. 2000;55: ).
Palliative care is associated with a number of benefits, including improved symptom burden, quality of life, and patient satisfaction (Vermylen JH, et al. Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis. 2015;10:). The majority of pulmonologists report that palliative care for patients with COPD is desirable, but about half of pulmonologists indicate that they do not use the palliative care guidelines and many were not even aware they existed (Duenk RG, et al. Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis. 2017;12: ). Patients with COPD often have unmet needs, and the majority of patients with COPD do not have access to palliative care at their end of life (Gore JM, et al). Unfortunately, the supply of palliative care specialists is too low to meet demand, especially in outpatient settings (Kamal AH, et al. Am J Med. 2017;130: ).
The ATS released a multisociety policy statement in 2022 that established a framework for early palliative care in the care in patients with respiratory illnesses (Sullivan DR, et al. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2022;206:). However, given the paucity of specialists and the aging population, the needs of patients and their loved ones cannot be met exclusively by palliative care specialists. Pulmonologists must expand their practice to include guideline-based palliative care in order to truly serve our patients to the best of our abilities. It is incumbent on training programs to train future pulmonologists with these palliative skills, and upon medical organizations to supply time and resources to ensure the pulmonologist is able to use these skills.
Gretchen Winter, MD