Palliative care specialists focus on relieving the symptoms of patients with serious or terminal illnesses. Palliative care specialists work to improve the quality of life for patients either during curative treatments or during the last stages of terminal illnesses.
Currently, there are about 5,000 practicing hospice and palliative care specialists in the United States.
Palliative care physicians, like all doctors, are required to complete medical school. Palliative care physicians are required to specialize after medical school, and will need to complete a residency program.
Palliative care physicians must complete a post med school residency program in one of ten different specialties including internal medicine, pediatrics, emergency medicine, gynecology and obstetrics, surgery, anesthesiology, psychiatry, and family medicine.
After residency, palliative care physicians will be required to become certified to practice medicine in a specific state. States control their own medical licensing test, so each will be different. Passing the state certification test allows a doctor to practice any type of medicine in the state, but does not prove expertise in any one field of medicine.
Once they pass this state test, palliative care specialists can choose to become board certified. Board certification is voluntary, but will show that a doctor has significant experience and expertise in their field. Organizations such as health care insurance companies and governmental bodies recognize board certification as an essential step in a qualified doctor's career.
Palliative care is a relatively new field of medicine and it includes many different fields of medicine, so it is currently certified under a few different organizations. Since 2008, both the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) and the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) have offered specialization certificates in Hospice and Palliative Medicine. In 2012, a new certification was created under the Hospice Medical Director Certification Board (HMDCB). Palliative care physicians receive an average salary of $183,583 per year.
Where Palliative Care Specialists Work
Currently about 80% of large hospitals and 55% of small hospitals host palliative care programs. Palliative care specialists may also work in rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes, hospice facilities, or in private practices and outpatient clinics.
How They Help People
Palliative care is a new medical field; it began only about 10 years ago. Because of this, the duties of palliative care physicians continues to evolve.
Palliative care specialists alleviate the physical and emotional pain and suffering of patients who suffer from serious or terminal illnesses like cancer, kidney failure, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, cardiac disease, and many others.
Patients who are receiving palliative care are not always facing terminal illnesses. Many palliative care specialists work with patients who are undergoing curative treatments. The palliative care specialists work to make these patients more comfortable during treatments by relieving symptoms like nausea, pain, and breathing difficulties. These specialists can work with patients of all ages.
Palliative care specialists focus on the total well-being of the patients, not just on improving the patient's medical condition. Specialists will talk with patients about the goal of the care, which can range from easing pain to dealing with emotional consequences to hospice care. Palliative care specialists will facilitate a variety of services for their patients like:
- Pain management
- Spiritual guidance from religious leaders
- Social work
- Relief of symptoms like nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath, and difficulty sleeping
- Coping with the daily necessities of an illness (like getting a wig during chemotherapy, or buying groceries when incapable)
- Educating the patient's family about the patient's illness and treatment plan
- Coordinate care for the patient with a variety of people
Palliative care is often administered in a team approach. The palliative care specialist will coordinate a treatment plan with nurses, doctors, social workers, religious leaders, and any other care providers the patient needs.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that patients with advanced lung cancer who received palliative care had lower rates of depression than patients who only underwent standard treatments. Other studies have found that patients receiving palliative care live longer than patients receiving traditional treatments, possibly as the result of treated depression, less hospitalization, or generally a better management of symptoms.
Medical Negligence and Palliative Care Specialists
Though palliative care may seem like a field of medicine with less chance for injury, it is actually a surprisingly strong source of medical negligence and malpractice.
Many injuries from palliative care stem from the field's relative newness; the field is still undergoing changes and revisions in its core standards of care.
A major source of malpractice in palliative care stems from a lack of consent by the patient or family of the patient receiving palliative treatments, especially in cases of terminal illnesses.
Sometimes doctors think they are providing the best care to their patients by beginning palliative care, but forget that the decision is not theirs alone to make. Palliative care can be given to patients who are undergoing curative treatments, but also to patients with a terminal illness as a way to make the patients and their family more comfortable before the patient's death. When palliative care is forced in these latter cases, it can stop curative treatments and speed the patient's death.
Palliative care can also cause more harm than good for terminal patients by causing pain and suffering with little medical benefits.
Other forms of negligence possible in palliative care include:
- Treatments that do not match the needs of the patient
- Ineffective treatments
- Delay in effective palliative treatments like pain relief
- Inconsistent treatments
- Failure to reassess palliative treatment when it fails to help
- Other errors by nurses and doctors in palliative care
Experienced Medical Malpractice Attorneys
Losing a family member too early or watching a family member suffer due to mistakes by palliative care physicians can be devastating. If you or a loved one has suffered serious injury from a palliative care specialist, call Gilman & Bedigian today to see if you have a case. We have a licensed physician on staff who can review your cases for instances of negligence.
Call our offices today at (800) 529-6162. We do not charge any attorney fees until you get the compensation you deserve.