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Overview and Definition of Palliative Care

The World Health Organization defines palliative care as:  An approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial, and spiritual.

With its focus on improvement of quality of life and relief of suffering, palliative care has a place in the care of almost any medical problem, at any stage of life. At the point where preservation of life is no longer a goal, and relief of suffering is the predominant goal (“Palliative Care Only” or “Comfort Care Only”), palliative care becomes what can be called the comprehensive care of the dying, usually by a specially skilled multidisciplinary team, most often in hospice.

In Vermont

With the passage of Act 25 in 2009, the Vermont legislature defined palliative care as: “Interdisciplinary care given to improve the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with a serious medical condition. Palliative care through the continuum of illness involves addressing physical, cognitive, emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs and facilitating patient autonomy, access to information, and choice.”


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