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MedStar Health Doctor Advocates for Palliative Care as a Human Right in Speech to United Nations Council | NEWS-Line for Physical Therapists & PT Assistants

MedStar Health Doctor Advocates for Palliative Care as a Human Right in Speech to United Nations Council


In a speech to the United Nations on April 4th, Kristin Forner, MD FAAHPM, Palliative Care Program Director, MedStar Health, Southern Maryland Region, discussed the "global need" for palliative care and the "right to health" for patients around the world.

Palliative care is specialized team care for people living with a serious illness, and it focuses on providing relief to both patients and their families. For the patients, this kind of care looks like relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness, and for the families it assists in deepening understanding of what patients are experiencing, and assurance that the care they are receiving aligns with their values.

"In my years of clinical experience at the bedside of hospitals all over the United States, I can attest that people are living longer, but not necessarily better," said Dr. Forner in her address to the UN Council. "My teams and I care for patients with chronic underlying medical conditions that are progressive and incurable in nature, despite maximum medical therapy. These are diseases like heart failure, emphysema, end-stage renal disease on dialysis, and dementia. We treat their symptoms and discuss their wishes for their care as their bodies decline, ensuring that the care that we are providing is in line with their values and with what is most important to them. This kind of support does not happen if palliative care is not involved."

Palliative care at MedStar Health includes pain and symptom management, guidance navigating difficult and complex treatment decisions, emotional and spiritual support for patients and their families, assistance coordinating transitions of care, and constant communication about what to expect during serious illness. It is available to people at any stage of serious illness and can be provided alongside curative treatment. Central to this care is maximizing quality of life, caring for the patient and family as a unit, and providing treatment consistent with patients' values and beliefs.

"Palliative care is not just a care approach for older patients who are frail and dying. When implemented upstream, nearer to the time of diagnosis of a life-limiting illness, palliative care improves quality of life by helping patients maximize their autonomy, function, and agency," Dr. Forner said. "It can, in effect, restore life to a patient who is suffering."

In a presentation as part of a panel comparing palliative care across four continents, Dr. Forner underscored the high unmet need for palliative care in the United States, especially in rural hospitals.

Palliative care teams are often tasked with providing holistic care to patients and their families by addressing all eight of the domains that make up a whole person: disease, physical, psychological, social, spiritual, practical, death, and loss/grief. The concept of caring for the whole person aligns with the MedStar Health promise to care for our patients wholistically - mind, body, and spirit.

As next steps and takeaways for healthcare leaders across the United States, Dr. Forner emphasized the following five areas where there is more work to be done to expand access to quality palliative care:

• Creating interdisciplinary teams to be able to care for the whole person

• The use of payment incentives to give healthcare facilities even more reason to invest in palliative care resources

• Identifying and filling gaps in quality, standards, and research related to palliative care

vTraining clinicians to provide them with the skills necessary to provide effective communication, symptom management, and psychosocial and spiritual support

• Spreading awareness among clinicians and the public about the benefits of palliative care

The concept of caring for the whole person aligns with the MedStar Health promise to care for our patients wholistically - mind, body, and spirit.

Source: MedStar Health

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