Background: Heart failure (HF) in its chronic form is an irreversible and progressive disease. Palliative care (PC) interventions have traditionally been focused on patients with advanced cancer. We performed a pilot study to assess the feasibility of implementing the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association (ACC/AHA) guidelines for early PC intervention in patients with advanced HF who were seeking or received potentially curative therapies.
Methods: Twenty consecutive patients with advanced HF referred to PC from the heart transplant service with stage D, New York Heart Association (NYHA) class III-IV symptoms were analyzed retrospectively in a tertiary care setting. Data were reviewed to assess the clinical impact of PC intervention. Feedback was obtained to assess satisfaction of the patients, their families, and the health care professionals. An independent assessment of the impact of the PC service in the care of each patient was performed by a cardiologist and PC physician by use of a scoring system.
Results: Twenty consecutive patients with HF were analyzed. PC consult was obtained for a variety of reasons. All patients complained of a high symptom burden. PC consultation resulted in a decrease in the use of opioids and increased patient satisfaction. Patients and their family members generally reported improved holistic care, continuity of care, more focused goals of care, and improved planning of treatment courses. The nonstandardized scoring system used to determine the impact of the PC service showed an average of moderate to significant impact when assessed by both a cardiologist and a PC physician.
Conclusion: PC consultation appears to be beneficial in the treatment and quality of life of advanced HF patients, independent of their prognosis. This pilot study demonstrated feasibility and sufficient evidence of clinical benefit to warrant a larger randomized clinical trial assessing the benefit of standard involvement by PC in patients with advanced HF, independent of the patient's prognosis or treatment goals.