Blog Behavioral/Mental Health Health Care Center for Community Health Partnership & Research

Advances in palliative care and hospice research: Improving the quality of care for patients with life-limiting illnesses

Written by Evelyn Shen, undergraduate in Anthropology: Global Health & Environment at Washington University in St. Louis and participant in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

Patrick White

Patrick White MD, HMDC, FACP, FAAHPM, grew up following his dad around, like most kids do—however, his dad was a community pulmonologist, and Dr. White spent much of his childhood doing home visits with his father. He came to appreciate what the visits meant to those patients and families. Even if they were incurable, symptom management was so important to them For Dr. White, it was powerful to see healthcare done well.

This idea of truly caring for patients rather than merely treating a disease stuck with Dr. White as he entered medical school, knowing he wanted to go into palliative care and hospice. As he says, “We’re the nicest people! There aren’t any jerks at our conferences!”

Palliative and Hospice care are both interdisciplinary and focused on quality of life. Hospice, however, is for patients with a terminal prognosis of less than 6 months and ensures a high degree of home support which may not be guaranteed with palliative care.

Dr. White decided to pursue a PhD in Clinical and Translational Research at the University of Pittsburgh to gain the credibility he needed to pursue research in a field that was severely lacking in literature. His goal with research is to look at common questions that the average doctor isn’t getting information about—like how to properly use steroids—and turn them into randomized clinical trials to generate evidence backed by data to inform medical practice.

20-30% of all the money the US spends on healthcare offers no clinically meaningful benefits to patients. But with palliative care doctors like Dr. White keeping an eye on the bigger picture and focusing in on maintaining the patient’s quality of life, we can decrease healthcare costs and significantly improve patient experiences.