Improving Communication in Palliative Care: Best Practices and Novel Tools

Improving Communication in Palliative Care: Best Practices and Novel Tools

Guest Commentary

May 26, 2015

By Timothy J. Moynihan, MD
2015 Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium Program Committee Member

I always look forward to the fall. The changing of the leaves, the relief from the heat and humidity of the summer, the return of a more normal routine from all the vacations, and cool fall breezes make sleeping all the sweeter. This year I have a new reason to look forward to the fall. For the second consecutive year, AAHPM, ASCO, ASTRO, and MASCC will present the Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium in Boston. This Symposium will foster the continued growth of the palliative care research landscape and increased use of palliative care for all of our patients. I have had the good fortune to work on the Program Committee with outstanding colleagues and collaborators, and I am sure this year’s Symposium will exceed the outstanding success of last year’s.

General Session 1, of which I am Co-Chair, will be centered around improving communications. Communication is at the very heart of palliative care. Understanding the patient, their family, and their goals is the bedrock upon which all palliative care is built. But how do we teach our colleagues, fellows, residents, and students? What tools are available to help foster these conversations, and how do we connect with children?

James A. Tulsky, MD, Chair of Palliative Care for the Duke University School of Medicine, will discuss the training process for communication skills development for oncologists. His work with first OncoTalk and now with VitalTalk has led to a marked revolution in training and improved communications with physicians and their patients.

Angelo Volanes, MD, MPH, of Massachusetts General Hospital, will provide fascinating data and examples about how video decision aids can help patients understand the choices that they face, in order to make the decisions that best reflect their own interests and priorities.

Margaret Campbell, PhD, RN, FPCN, of Wayne State University, will walk through a series of cases that illustrate the relation between prognosis and tools that will help to determine the need to call in palliative specialists.

Paula Rauch, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital, will discuss the difficult topic of communication with children about illness, theirs or a family member’s.

An interesting highlight to this session will be a lively poster discussion on end-of-life communications and technology tools for communications, which is a great way to illustrate the concepts discussed in the presentations in the context of timely research.

Much like a beautiful fall bicycle ride among the brilliantly changing leaves, I am sure this will leave everyone with a renewed energy and enthusiasm, like a breath of fresh air, to bring the tools and techniques home to their own institutions to better meet the needs of patients.

Dr. Moynihan is Chair of the Inpatient Medical Oncology Program, Chair of the Brain Tumor Clinic, and the Hospice Medical Director at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester. His major focus of research is symptom management, palliative care, and end-of-life care. Dr. Moynihan is a member of the 2015 Palliative Care in Oncology Symposium Program Committee. He is Co-Chair of General Session 1, the concurrent session on nonpharmacologic pain management, and of the Death Cafe networking event.

For more about the Symposium, read the commentary by Ralph J. Hauke, MD, FACP; other blogs by faculty and committee members will be added in the coming weeks. The full educational program is viewable online, with abstract and poster information to be added in late summer. Visit the registration site, where you can also make hotel reservations.


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