Nurses can play key role in palliative and end-of-life care

By David Ferguson

Nurses are among the healthcare professionals best positioned to assess patients' need for palliative care as well as to administer this type of care, according to Nurse.com.

As healthcare workers face an aging populace and more and more attention turns to end-of-life issues, nurses are the ideal advocates for palliative and geropalliative care, according to the piece.

Because nurses spend the most time directly treating patients and interacting with them and their families, they can best assess when it is time to turn attention away from curing the clinical syndromes affecting the patient and instead applying care that will lessen pain and confusion, and ease the patient's final days. 

"What we're really trying to do is help patients and families during the last years of life, irrespective of their disease state," Deborah M. Conley of Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders (NICHE) told Nurse.com. Conley is the director of the AgeWise program at Nebraska Methodist Hospital in Omaha.

And that help is necessary, argues hospice physician Dawn M. Gross, M.D., in a New York Times blog post. Oftentimes when patients have reached a terminal stage, clinicians may say, "There's nothing we can do," meaning there's nothing they can do to save the patient's life, but there is always something healthcare providers can do to ease the suffering of patients and their loved ones, Gross said.

"The only time doctors are left with 'nothing more we can do, is when we fail to ask," she wrote. 

Society's current way of dying is unnecessarily painful, stressful and expensive, radio host Hoppy Kercheval argued in a West Virginia Metro News column. Now that Medicare plans may reimburse healthcare providers for having end-of-life discussions, Kercheval wrote, there should be few barriers to humane, thoughtful care for the dying.

To learn more:
- read the Nurse.com article
- here's the blog post
- read Kercheval's column

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