Clinically relevant summaries of palliative care reviews 

Palliative care as a specialist health field draws upon a multidisciplinary body of evidence to support its practice. Identifying and summarising the high level evidence on patient and system issues helps clinicians to use this evidence in their practice.

Assessment and management of physical symptoms is a major focus of palliative care, as poorly controlled pain or nausea can seriously affect a patient's quality of life. It can also reduce their ability to maintain physical functioning which then affects all aspects of their daily life.

How care is provided will be influenced by the context of care delivery. This includes service availability and patient preferences. The National Palliative Care Strategy 2018 calls for evidence to be integrated into care provider education and training to improve the consistency and quality of care.

In evidence based practice clinicians combine the best available evidence with their expertise and patient preferences and circumstances to plan care. [1] This is person-centred best practice, and each contributor alone is not enough.
Evidence obtained from research can inform us of likely benefits and risks associated with different approaches to care including assessment and management options. Findings based on studies with the least bias provide the strongest evidence. For this reason systematic reviews and randomised controlled trials are preferred sources of evidence where available.

National Palliative Care Strategy 2018

About this section

In the following pages we provide synopses of syntheses (summaries of information found in systematic reviews) of the best available evidence relevant to assessment and management of symptoms in the person with palliative care needs. Evidence from systematic reviews has been formally appraised for inclusion. Key messages and evidence gaps listed on the main topic page are drawn from all pages for that topic. Content has been developed and reviewed by Australian health professionals to ensure its quality and relevance. More guidance on practical aspects of patient management and reflecting the context of care is available in the Information for GPs section of CareSearch.

Definitions and approaches

Symptoms in this section include items from the symptom assessment scale [2] used in the Palliative Care Outcomes Collaborative.

Moreover, the definitions of palliative care by both the World Health Organization and Palliative Care Australia recognise that suffering may not only be physical, and that care needs to include psychological, spiritual and social care and support. Providing comprehensive care requires an understanding of the specific needs and circumstances of the individual patient.

The pages are developed following an examination of the research evidence for the symptom as described in systematic reviews relevant to the topic. The systematic reviews were identified following a search for topic based systematic reviews in four databases - OvidSP MEDLINE, CINAHL, PsycINFO and Embase. Following quality appraisal, findings were synthesised to provide evidence based information relevant to patient management for each topic.

The information in these pages is necessarily of a general nature, and health professionals should use their best clinical judgement in the way in which it is used. Individuals should seek professional medical care and advice as required. Please read our Terms and Conditions for more on this.

We welcome feedback on these pages and the identification of any other key symptoms not yet addressed.

  1. Sackett DL, Rosenberg WM, Gray JA, Haynes RB, Richardson WS. Evidence based medicine: what it is and what it isn't. BMJ. 1996 Jan 13;312(7023):71-2.
  2. Kristjanson LJ, Pickstock S, Yuen K, Davis S, Blight J, Cummins A, et al. Development and testing of the revised Symptom Assessment Scale: Final report. Perth, WA; Edith Cowan University: 1999.

Last updated 16 September 2021