Value of palliative care shines clearly in a crisis


Eerily quiet

The COVID-19 crisis has been quite a whirlwind for hospital medicine, said Jeanie Youngwerth, MD, a hospitalist and program director of the palliative care service at the University of Colorado in Denver, which was a significant viral hotspot early on.

Dr. Jeanie Youngwerth, University of Colorado

Dr. Jeanie Youngwerth

“When it first started, things seemed to change almost overnight – starting on Friday, March 13. People had to take action right away to develop work flows and the technology to allow us to see as many patients as possible,” she said. By the time Monday came, it was a whole new ballgame.

Dr. Youngwerth and two colleagues worked quickly to develop inpatient telemedicine capacity where none existed. “We knew we would not be going into patients’ rooms, but most of our team showed up in the hospital to work with the primary care teams. Our job was to see what we could do that actually made a difference,” she said.

“The hospital became a very strange place. You’d walk down the hallway and it was eerily quiet. Everybody you came across was being so nice to each other.” Televisits became a powerful way to bring the human connection back to medical care.

“What we learned from families was that they were thirsting to have some kind of connection with their loved one, and to be able to talk about their loved one and who they were as a person,” she said. “We’d contact the family through video visits and then, when the family meeting ended, the nurse would bring an iPad into the patient’s room so the family could see their loved one on a ventilator. They would immediately start communicating with their loved one, praying aloud, singing, playing music. It would make a huge difference for the family – and for the staff.”


1. Nakagawa S et al. Pandemic palliative care consultations spanning state and institutional borders. J Am Geriatr Soc. 2020 May 22. doi: 10.1111/jgs.16643.

2. Lee J Abrukin L, Flores S. Early intervention of palliative care in the emergency department during the COVID-19 pandemic. JAMA Intern Med. 2020 Jun 5. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.2713.


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