End-of-Life Essentials Blog

Learning how to recognise end of life

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A blog post written by Kim Devery, Senior Lecturer and Head of Discipline, Palliative Care, Flinders University

With 52% of Australians dying in acute hospitals, end-of-life care is essential knowledge for health care professionals.

However, health care professionals working in acute hospitals can find themselves challenged by patients with end-of-life care needs. Doctors, nurses and allied health professionals can be in a situation where they do not know how to best respond to a patient with end-of-life needs. Appropriate end-of-life interventions can be missed.

Health professionals working in hospitals can ask themselves:

  • How can I tell if a patient is approaching the end of life?
  • What prevents me from having early conversations about patient goals and values?
  • What psychosocial and spiritual support services are available in my clinical area? How can I involve these in my patients’ care?
  • How comfortable am I in prescribing or administering adequate pain relief?

Recognition of patients at the end of life is vital and often the first step to ensuring that appropriate end-of-life interventions are offered. The Supportive and Palliative Care Indicators Tool (SPICT) is one example of a trigger tool that can assist doctors, nurses and allied health professionals consider if end-of-life care might be needed.

If a patient's illness trajectory and clinical condition are progressing towards end of life, then health care interventions can be tailored to needs. Appropriate end-of-life interventions may be offered years before death, in parallel with active treatments and can include:

  • Early conversations about patient care goals and values
  • Support of families and carers
  • Meticulous pain and symptom control
  • Psychosocial and spiritual support
  • Advance care planning

Conversations with patients about their preferences and their future are pivotal in giving them choices in their health care and what happens in the last phase of their life.

Education is a powerful way for health care professionals to enhance their end-of-life care knowledge and skills.

If you want to learn more, End-of-Life Essentials: Education for health professionals within acute hospitals provides online learning modules and implementation resources to help build health professional capacity to provide good care in Australian hospitals.

Relevant for nurses, doctors and allied health professionals in any acute hospital setting, this e-learning package deals with end-of-life care. The package is free to use and can be easily accessed from anywhere in Australia.

All components of the e-learning package draw upon the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care’s National Consensus Statement: Essential elements for safe and high-quality end-of-life care. This reflects the views of clinicians, health consumers, carers, experts in the field and the Commission. The first three online learning modules will be available on the 24th June 2016. You can register your interest here.



Kim Devery, Senior Lecturer and Head of Discipline, Palliatve Care, Flinders University

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