Palliative Care Improves Quality of Life

Patients with serious illness who receive palliative care were more satisfied with their health care.

Palliative care can improve the quality of life in patients with serious illness, according to findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers investigated the overall association between palliative care and a patient’s quality of life, symptom burden, and survival.

A systemic review was conducted of 43 trials of palliative care interventions, which included 12,731 adults with serious illness and 2479 family caregivers. This was followed by the first meta-analysis to study the effects of palliative care.

“Taken altogether, this is a very compelling message,” said lead study author Dio Kavalieratos, PhD. “People’s quality of life and symptoms improved; their satisfaction with their health care improved — all during what is likely one of the most difficult periods of their lives.”

Additional findings revealed an association between palliative care and improvements in advance care planning, patient and caregiver satisfaction, and lower health care utilization. Mixed evidence was seen regarding improvements with site of death, patient mood, health care expenditures, and caregiver quality of life, mood or burden.

“Historically, palliative care has overwhelmingly focused on individuals with cancer, but anyone with a serious illness, be it cancer, heart failure, multiple sclerosis or cystic fibrosis, deserves high-quality, individualized care that focuses on reducing their suffering and improving their quality of life,” Kavalieratos said. “We need to find ways of integrating palliative care concepts in patients’ usual care experiences so it isn’t a luxury, but a standard part of health care for those living with serious illness.”

Individual studies have shown that palliative care can improve patient survival, but this finding was not consistent when multiple studies were pooled together in the meta-analysis.

“As a field, we need to develop new methods of studying how palliative care impacts people with serious illness and their caregivers,” Kavalieratos said. “These methods should not burden patients and caregivers who participate in this research, but also need to be rigorous enough to capture what’s going on at this critical point in people’s lives.”