Background: There is growing interest in the application of palliative care principles to improve care for patients and families affected by neurologic diseases. We developed an interdisciplinary outpatient clinic for patients and families affected by neurologic disorders to better address the problems faced by our highest need patients. We have developed and improved this program over the past three years and share several of our most important lessons as well as ongoing challenges and areas where we see our clinic evolving in the future.
Methods: We provide a description of our clinic logistics, including key steps in the initiation of the clinic, and provide descriptions from similar clinics at other institutions to demonstrate some of the variability in this growing field. We also provide results from a formal one-year quality improvement project and a one-year retrospective study of patients attending this clinic.
Results: Our clinic has grown steadily since its inception and maintains high satisfaction ratings from patients, caregivers, and referring providers. To maintain standardized and efficient care we have developed materials for patients and referring physicians as well as checklists and other processes used by our interdisciplinary team. Feedback from our quality improvement project helped define optimal visit duration and refine communication among team members and with patients and families. Results from our chart review suggest our clinic influences advance care planning and place of death. Common referral reasons include psychosocial support, complex symptom management, and advance care planning. Current challenges for our clinic include developing a strategy for continued growth, creating a sustainable financial model for interdisciplinary care, integrating our services with disease-specific sections, improving primary palliative care knowledge and skills within our referral base, and building effective alliances with community neurologists, geriatrics, primary care, nursing homes, and hospices.
Conclusions: Specialized outpatient palliative care for neurologic disorders fills several important gaps in care for this patient population, provides important educational opportunities for trainees, and creates opportunities for patient and caregiver-centered research. Educational initiatives are needed to train general neurologists in primary palliative care, to train neurologists in specialist palliative care, and to train palliative medicine specialists in neurology. Research is needed to build an evidence base to identify patient and caregiver needs, support specific interventions, and to build more efficient models of care in both academic and community settings.
Keywords: Neurology; outpatient clinic; palliative care.