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Joining Together to Improve Outcomes: Integrating Specialty Palliative Care Into the Care of Patients With Cancer

Maxwell T. Vergo and Amelia M. Cullinan

This article addresses the misconception that patients with cancer should undergo a definitive “transition” to palliative care at some point in their trajectory, and instead proposes that a gradual shift should occur from primary palliative care provided by the oncologist to specialty palliative care when the need exists. The goal is to help practitioners identify which patients are in need of specialty palliative care, suggest when oncologists should consider making a referral, and offer a model for sharing the responsibilities of care once palliative care clinicians become involved. This model enhances the patient and family experience through improving symptom control and quality of life, and may even prolong survival. It also minimizes patients’ perception of abandonment at the end of life, while reducing the risk of physician burnout in practicing oncologists. Lastly, the misconceptions of oncologists are addressed regarding how patients and families will accept the idea of a palliative care consultation, and suggestions are offered for responding to patient and/or family resistance to referral when it arises.