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Learning modules

Activity 5: Assessing people's needs

To provide health care that's relevant to community needs, it is important to understand the experiences, preferences and care requirements for people with life-limiting illnesses.

People with advanced cancer and other life-limiting illnesses may experience a variety of needs that can vary in complexity and severity during the illness trajectory.

Common needs and preferences for people with life-limiting illnesses include:

  • management of physical symptoms such as pain, weakness, fatigue and dyspnoea
  • management of psychological symptoms
  • need for social support
  • culturally specific needs related to language problems and information disclosure preferences
  • need for information about treatment, diagnosis or prognosis
  • spiritual and existential concerns including hope, loss of meaning and uncertainty
  • financial concerns such as loss of income and medical costs
  • legal concerns such as preferences for end-of-life care and advanced care directives. [1] 

A range of assessment tools are available to assist health professionals to undertake a needs assessment.

Thinking points


1. Waller, A., Girgis, A., Currow, D., Lecathelinais, C. (2008). Development and pilot testing of the Palliative Care Needs Assessment Tool (PC-NAT).Palliative Medicine, 22(8), 956-964.