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As our population ages, the complexity of patients seeking care in the emergency department will increase dramatically. Chronic and terminal diseases will be ever-present but increasingly in patients also negotiating challenges like functional and cognitive decline. While their needs are different, in many hospitals, it is business as usual. A highly skilled and well-intentioned staff stands ready to deploy a limitless supply of diagnostic and therapeutic options designed to help patients live longer, not necessarily better.
Relying on default pathways that prioritize life-prolongation at the mercy of comfort and dignity has already left many patients and doctors feeling unsatisfied, while wasting precious healthcare resources. The future should not be more of the same.
If a new and better clinical road is to be paved in the future, it will be with the aid of palliative care, a specialty, philosophy and movement in medicine. Getting patients better access to palliative care should be a priority for our specialty. For some, this will mean partnering with existing palliative care specialists and hospices. Unfortunately, for most of us, the palliative care workforce will never be able to match the increasing demand created by our patients. This means that we must all do the hard, but incredibly rewarding work of learning a basic palliative care skillset. No pressure but the future of healthcare depends on it!