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Improving patient quality of life through palliative care

Improving patient quality of life through palliative care

At the core of Mount Nittany Health’s mission of “Healthier people, stronger community” is a focus on quality of life for all patients, including those who are suffering from serious illnesses including cancer, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease. To help handle the symptoms and stress associated with these illnesses, Mount Nittany Health offers specialized palliative care services.

Palliative care aims to “improve the quality of your life by controlling the symptoms” from serious illnesses, according to Patricia Fogelman, DNP, Clinical Director of Palliative Medicine at Mount Nittany Health, whose team focuses on advanced illness management and reduction of symptom burden as a goal, to improve quality of life.

“Determining the patient’s goals for their care, and how that aligns with a plan for their advanced illness management; those are the kinds of conversations I have with patients,” Fogelman explained.

These conversations are incredibly important, and Mount Nittany Health will recognize November as National Hospice and Palliative Care Month. Fittingly, this year’s theme is, “Courageous Conversations.”

It’s crucial to differentiate palliative care from hospice care, a common source of confusion. Palliative care is suitable for individuals at any stage of a severe illness and focuses on symptom management while patients continue to receive curative treatments.

On the other hand, hospice care is typically reserved for individuals with a prognosis of six months or less to live, prioritizing comfort and quality of life during the end-of-life stage when curative treatments are no longer pursued. Palliative care is not solely for end-of-life situations; it offers comprehensive support to enhance the well-being of patients, their caregivers, and their families, regardless of their stage in the illness journey.

“Through palliative approaches, we aim to improve quality of life not just for patients, but also their caregivers and families,” Fogelman said. “By reducing symptoms, we can help patients go to a game or a wedding.” She stressed adapting care to “what a person needs.”

For patients with worsening heart failure, palliative care can help them reach their goal as medications become less effective. “And could there be more resources to get them help at home? Should there be more support like visiting nurses and durable medical equipment? These are the questions palliative care providers are trained to ask.”

At Mount Nittany Health, Fogelman’s dedicated team focuses on advanced illness management and alleviating symptom burdens. Their primary goal is to reduce suffering and improve the overall quality of life. This commitment includes tailoring care plans to align with each patient’s unique goals and needs, ensuring a personalized and comprehensive approach to care.

Fogelman became interested in palliative care after seeing a need to manage chronic and worsening conditions better and have difficult conversations. She now finds the work fulfilling in helping “reduce unnecessary human suffering.”

For healthcare providers interested in incorporating palliative care into their practice, valuable resources are available. They can explore education and training programs offered by accredited institutions and organizations specializing in palliative care like or These programs equip healthcare professionals with the knowledge and skills to provide holistic palliative care.

Referrals to palliative care specialists, like Fogelman, can come from various healthcare professionals. While oncology physicians are often seen as the primary source of referrals, hospitalists, nurses, and other medical practitioners who closely interact with patients are well-positioned to recognize the need for palliative care. This collaborative approach ensures that patients receive comprehensive care that addresses their medical and quality-of-life needs, underlining the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to advanced illness management.

For many with chronic and worsening conditions, there are many options, and palliative care conversations can help patients, families and their care providers develop solutions that help them fulfill their aspirations.

“There’s got to be more before hospice care and there is,” said Fogelman, “There’s always something I can do to help.”