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Dr. Anthony Back
Palliative care graphic from Serious Illness Message toolkit.
January 24, 2023

Evidence-Based Messaging for Serious Illness Care

A new toolkit helps dispel public misunderstandings about care for serious illness.
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Palliative care - specialized health care for people of all ages living with a serious illness - aims to improve the individual's and their family members' physical, emotional, behavioral and spiritual health.

Although it was introduced in the United States 40 years ago, 75% of people still do not know what palliative care is. 

The Serious Illness Messaging Toolkit was developed from a decade of research and insight gleaned from a consortium of organizations in the field of serious illness care. The project aims to improve the way health care professionals communicate about care for serious illness to make it more understandable and accessible to the public.

"As a physician, I've been in so many situations where I've tried to recommend palliative care to a patient who could benefit from the resources and they turned me down," said Anthony Back, M.D., principal investigator of Message Lab and professor at the University of Washington Cambia Palliative Care Center of Excellence.

"In creating this toolkit, I've learned how deep public misunderstanding is about palliative care. To create a real shift in how people perceive it, we need to change how we message it. What I do as a palliative care physician is help people with a serious illness feel better and cope better as they go on living their lives."