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The Palliative Care Center of Excellence

Transforming Palliative Care

We have a quietly growing crisis in our country and an important opportunity. Driven by changing demographics, many more of us face the trials of illness and disability and the challenges of caregiving during the later years of life. Compounding this is a severe shortage of healthcare professionals who have specific skills and knowledge to help us live as well as possible in the face of serious illness.

Palliative care—a vital yet often neglected element of treatment—is the central component for solving this problem. Discussing the goals of medical care, weighing treatment options, and offering psychosocial support and treatment of symptoms are essential when patients are facing some of the most important decisions and vulnerable moments of their lives. Indeed, palliative care, introduced early, improves well-being and survival rates, reduces patient and caregiver stress, and avoids unwanted procedures. When delivered concurrently with curative care, palliative care provides benefits that extend beyond individuals to entire health systems and results in improved patient outcomes.

Stanford Medicine aspires to be a leader in this new field. With philanthropic support, we envision a powerful new model for the delivery of palliative care. Stanford’s initiative —Transforming Palliative Care — will build that model and, through training, research, and rigorous accountability, advance best practices of palliative care across the United States.

Why at Stanford

Stanford’s palliative care program has grown tremendously over the last 12 years. Capitalizing on the momentum from early and continued investments by Stanford Health Care and School of Medicine, the new Palliative Care Center of Excellence was established to (1) further expand the delivery of palliative care across the health system, (2) build a pioneering research program equipped to provide leadership in learning how to lessen suffering, (3) create and refine curriculae to teach our evidence-based practices, and (4) disseminate our learnings across the nation. Our vision includes equipping Bay Area communities to plan more effectively for aging and to activate volunteers and community resources to support patients and families more effectively at home.

Leveraging Stanford’s entrepreneurial ethos and well-established strengths in information technology, population health, design thinking, implementation science, biomedical ethics, and technological innovation, the Palliative Care Center of Excellence will create a new model through three key drivers:

Clinical Excellence

To serve patients coping with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other serious, complex and chronic conditions, we will leverage existing principles of palliative care and develop new standards of care by:

  • Using bioinformatics to identify patients who could most benefit from the early introduction of palliative care, allowing for systematic and proactive engagement of patients and their caregivers
  • Making access to specialty palliative care easy and convenient through expansion of outpatient clinics, telemedicine, and home-based care
  • Addressing the shortage of palliative care specialists by training frontline clinicians (physicians, nurses, and others) in a variety of specialties to deliver palliative care within their practices

Research: Continuous Testing and Improvements

Drawing on the breadth and depth of the Stanford enterprise, and utilizing the latest implementation science methods, we will pursue novel research in palliative care by:

  • Defining the standards and practices that objectively deliver the best palliative care, and evaluating them through established metrics
  • Systematically measuring and training clinicians on their assessment of patient needs and their communication skills
  • Investigating uniquely important and personal aspects of palliative care including spiritual, emotional, and psychosocial wellbeing and how to best support families, including in their own homes and community
  • Training a new generation of skilled nurse and physician research leaders who will, with appropriate integration of technology, seek to improve teamwork and efficiency, build sustainable care models, and foster human touch

Education and Dissemination: Sharing What We Learn

Creating the model to transform palliative care is only the beginning. Our goal is to establish capacities for continuous improvement and replication to other medical centers and organizations by:

  • Populating the ranks of tomorrow’s palliative care leaders through rigorous fellowship training programs for nurses, residents, and physicians
  • Developing and delivering comprehensive patient education programs that empower individuals to understand their own conditions and advocate for themselves
  • Providing community forums that increase knowledge and palliative care access in homes, nursing facilities, community centers, and other partner organizations
  • Publishing results of our research in academic journals, speaking extensively about our findings at medical conferences (locally and nationally), and continuing to develop curriculum for ongoing medical education