Palliative care guidelines relevant for hematologists, doc says


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The latest edition of the national palliative care guidelines provides new clinical strategies relevant to hematology practice in the United States, according to a physician-researcher specializing in hematology.

The Clinical Practice Guidelines for Quality Palliative Care, 4th edition, represents a “blueprint for what it looks like to provide high-quality, comprehensive palliative care to people with serious illness,” said Thomas W. LeBlanc, MD, a physician-researcher at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina.

However, unlike previous editions, this update to the guidelines emphasizes the importance of palliative care provided by both primary care and specialty care clinicians.

“Part of this report is about trying to raise the game of everybody in medicine and provide a higher basic level of primary palliative care to all people with serious illness, but then also to figure out who has higher levels of needs where the specialists should be applied, since they are a scarce resource,” Dr. LeBlanc said.

The latest edition helps establish a foundation for gold standard palliative care for people living with serious illness, regardless of diagnosis, prognosis, setting, or age, according to The National Coalition for Hospice and Palliative Care, which published the clinical practice guidelines.

The update was developed by the National Consensus Project for Quality Palliative Care (NCP), which includes 16 national organizations with palliative care and hospice expertise, and is endorsed by more than 80 national organizations, including the American Society of Hematology.

One key reason for the update, according to NCP, was to acknowledge that today’s healthcare system may not be meeting patients’ palliative care needs.

Specifically, the guidelines call on clinicians who don’t practice palliative care to integrate palliative care principles into their routine assessment of seriously ill patients with conditions such as heart failure, lung disease, and cancer.

That differs from the way palliative care is traditionally practiced, in which specially trained doctors, nurses, and other specialists provide that support.

An issue with that traditional model is a shortage of specialized clinicians to meet palliative care needs, said Dr. LeBlanc, whose clinical practice and research focuses on palliative care needs of patients with hematologic malignancies.

“Palliative care has matured as a field such that we are now actually facing workforce shortage issues and really fundamental questions about who really needs us the most and how we increase our reach to improve the lives of more patients and families facing serious illness,” he said.

That’s a major driver behind the emphasis in the latest guidelines on providing palliative care in the community, coordinating care, and dealing with care transitions, Dr. LeBlanc added.

“I hope that this document will help to demonstrate the value and the need for palliative care specialists and for improvements in primary care in the care of patients with hematologic diseases in general,” he said. “To me, this adds increasing legitimacy to this whole field.”

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