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What is palliative care?
Palliative care is specialized, supportive care for people with serious medical conditions, and focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and stress associated with serious illness. Palliative care is patient and family centered care, delivered by a team of professionals. The core of the palliative care team includes physicians, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, social workers, pharmacists and chaplains. Palliative care is not merely end of life care, but can be included at any phase of treatment and would, ideally, began at the diagnosis of a serious or life threatening illness and continue throughout the disease process.
Palliative care focuses on the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual aspects of care, with emphasis being given to the cultural needs, values, beliefs, preferences and wishes of the patient and the family. The palliative care team works to keep the patient informed and educated on the disease process and treatment options, which allows the patient to choose the care and treatment which is the most compatible with the patient’s goals of care. The palliative care team assists the patient in making choices which maximize the patient’s quality of life, as defined by the patient. That is, many patients prefer options which may sacrifice longevity of life, in favor of a higher quality of life.
Typical palliative care referrals involve patients who have been diagnosed with diseases such as cancer, heart disease, lung disease, kidney failure, dementia, stroke, HIV/AIDS and ALS. But while these are the most common situations, the palliative care team can be helpful for any patient who has been diagnosed with a serious, life-threatening illnesses.
Goals of palliative care
The goal of the palliative care team is to maximize the quality of life for the patient and family. Palliative care focuses on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs of the family and family. The palliative care team works with the patient to prevent and treat symptoms of the disease process and side effects of treatment, such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping and depression. Studies have shown that patients and their families are more satisfied with patient care and that patients achieve a higher quality of life, when palliative care is involved.
The palliative care team also frequently engages patients and their support teams in advance directive conversations, to insure that the medical care being delivered is consistent with the wishes of the patient and also to insure that the patient’s support system is aware of the patient’s wishes regarding care. One of the most precious gifts anyone can give is making their loved ones aware of their wishes regarding end of life care, as this relieves those loved ones from the burden of making difficult end-of-life decisions for their loved ones.
Palliative care compared to hospice care
Both palliative care and hospice care provide comfort measures for the patient and family. The two terms involve some overlap, and are sometimes erroneously treated as being synonymous. Hospice care has been around for a long time, with the goal of caring for, and keeping patients comfortable, after treatment efforts have been exhausted, with a focus simply on providing comfort during end of life care. Hospice generally involves patients with a life expectancy of six months or less, and is for patients for whom cure is no longer an option.
Palliative care, in contrast, addresses the care and treatment of a much more broad range of patients, including those patients who are only at the beginning of their journey with a serious, life-threatening illness. The palliative care team involved with the patient and the patient’s support system throughout the course of the illness, can assist the patient with informed decision-making that maximizes quality of life and patient autonomy. Palliative care differs from hospice in that palliative care can be utilized along with measures which involve aggressive treatment of a disease.
Contact the palliative care team
The palliative care team consists of an interdisciplinary, dedicated group of health care professionals working together to meet the goals of our patients and families. For more information, please call 251-435-CARE (2273).