Ensuring Quality of Life

Our clinicians employ all available treatments to alleviate patients’ suffering and improve quality of life at any stage of a serious illness, including during curative treatments (such as chemotherapy). In this way, palliative care is unlike hospice, which focuses on home care and ceases life-prolonging interventions for patients expected to live six or fewer months.

A Team Approach

Established in 1996, the Division of Palliative Care, part of the Department of Medicine, comprises:

  • Sixteen board-certified physicians
  • Eight board-certified nurse practitioners
  • Six adult physician fellows, two pediatric physician fellows and one nurse practitioner fellow
  • Two clinical social workers and a triage nurse

We work closely with the patient's primary care physician and hospital specialists, nurses, chaplains, psychiatrists and pharmacists to help meet the physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs of patients and their families. We work with more than 2,000 inpatients and outpatients and their families every year. 

Personalized, Family-Centered Support

Treatments are unique to each patient and incorporate the patient's goals, hopes, spiritual beliefs, moral values and cultural practices. We also encourage families to become part of the treatment process.

Treatment may involve medications and other therapies for pain, emotional distress and other troubling symptoms (e.g. nausea, shortness of breath, fatigue, loss of appetite). Examples include:

  • Patient-controlled medicine pumps
  • Relaxation techniques (e.g. meditation, guided imagery)
  • Short-term cognitive-behavioral therapy (e.g. pain-coping skills)
  • Individual and family counseling, including special services for younger children
  • Weekly clinics centering on specific conditions (e.g. cancer pain)

We may also refer patients to Mass General's Center for Pain Medicine or Cancer Center.

A Foundation of Advocacy & Awareness

The Division of Palliative Care is committed to strengthening institutional support for students and fellow clinicians and establishing standards of clinical excellence in the field.  We promote operational changes to improve palliative-care practice throughout Mass General and beyond. For instance, as a result of our merger with the hospital's Medical Intensive Care Unit, palliative-care measures are now available to those patients.

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