Palliative care has always been a part of the care of children. It includes any intervention that focuses on relieving suffering, slowing the progression of disease, and improving quality of life at any stage of disease. In addition, for even the child with the most unpredictable disease, there are predictable times in this child's life when the child, family, and care team will be suffering in ways that can be mitigated by specific interventions. Rather than defining pediatric palliative care in terms of a patient base, severity of disease, or even a general philosophy of care, palliative care can best be understood as a specific set of tasks directed at mitigating suffering. By understanding these tasks; learning to identify predictable times and settings of suffering; and learning to collaborate with multidisciplinary specialists, use communication skills, and identify clinical resources, the pediatrician can more effectively support children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. In this article, we define palliative care as a focus of care integrated in all phases of life and as a set of interventions aimed at easing suffering associated with life-threatening conditions. We detail an approach to these interventions and discuss how they can be implemented by the pediatrician with the support of specialists in hospice and palliative medicine. We discuss common and predictable times of suffering when these interventions become effective ways to treat suffering and improve quality of life. Finally, we discuss those situations that pediatricians most commonly and intensely interface with palliative care-the care of the child with complex, chronic conditions and severe neurologic impairment (SNI).
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