Purpose of review: Heart failure is a chronic, fatally progressive and incurable condition characterized by periods of apparent stability interspersed with acute exacerbations. Treatment models have historically emphasized management of acute exacerbations of cardiovascular disease, during which end-of-life issues figure frequently and prominently, though in a setting that is inappropriate to address the comprehensive needs of patients and their families. Consequently, in comparison to patients with malignancy, heart failure patients at the end of life are less likely to access palliative resources, and more likely to access in-patient care and cardiovascular procedures.
Recent findings: Recent reports and position statements have emphasized the following critical needs for provision of optimal heart failure care: a) Cardiovascular specialists require training to obtain basic skills for provision of palliative care to management of end-of-life issues; b) Discussion of end-of-life issues should be introduced as early as feasible in patients with heart failure and should be updated with changes in clinical status; c) Provision of palliative care should be integrated into a team approach; d) Patients with heart failure frequently suffer symptoms which are not typically considered 'cardiovascular', such as pain, social/functional and psychological. Patients should be assessed for these symptoms, which should be treated.
Summary: This report summarizes many of these suggestions and outlines future directions for the expansion and improvement of this critical need for heart failure patients.