Misuse of the term “palliative”

The term “palliative”, especially when used in describing a particular patient is confusing, confounding, and misleading. It is frequently used in an euphemistic manner as physicians may feel uncomfortable in conveying “bad news” and employ terms that they believe “soften the blow”. The  term “palliative” should be used only to describe a philosphy of care (namely, conservative methods that aim to relieve suffering thereby improving comfort, dignity, quality of life, and quality of death). When describing the actual patient, one should use terms such as “advanced illness”, terminally ill, incurable etc. The description of such patients should also be supplemented with the use of objective descriptors such as performance status, stage of disease(s) etc. Therefore, the use of expressions such as “palliative patient” or “palliative wound” should be avoided and replaced with more accurate, clear, and unequivocal terminology such as “stage IV cancer patient with a PPS of 40% who has accepted to adopt  Conservative Palliative Management” (CPM-ie., pain and symptom management), and “stage IV pressure ulcer that is non-healable and where the emphasis is on “wound palliation” (ie., wound-related pain & symptom management).


About drvincentmaida

Consultant in Palliative Medicine & Wound Management, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto & McMaster University, Researcher & Author.
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