Interventional Research in Palliative Care: Challenges and Opportunities

May 2013

Palliative care provides an interdisciplinary approach to caring for patients with life-threatening illnesses, with a focus on improving quality of life as it relates to physical, psychosocial, and spiritual dimensions. Palliative care has many forms, including management of physical symptoms, attention to spiritual and psychological distress, communication about life-threatening illness, and development of care plans that reflect individual goals. Each of these areas provides rich territory for intervention-based research. Yet interventional research in palliative care has many challenges, including a vulnerable population in which recruitment may be ethically complex and in which patients have limited lifespans, variable illness trajectories, and often, progressive symptoms that make assessment of intervention efficacy difficult. In addition, because palliative care is tailored to the wishes of the individual, assessing the effectiveness of outcomes is highly complex.

Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health have some of the leading palliative care researchers in the country, but as yet there is no central forum for discussing research and developing collaborations. In addition, despite the number of palliative care researchers at Harvard, novel research in palliative care interventions is being performed by relatively few researchers here, with the bulk of the work being done around the country and the world. This seminar, focused on intervention-based research in palliative care, aims to bring together local faculty to foster learning and collaboration, and to gather national leaders in the field at Harvard to share their experience and expertise. The ultimate goal of this seminar is to foster interventional research in palliative care at Harvard University. 

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