Palliative medicine offers symptom management along with emotional/spiritual support for those with advanced illnesses and their families. It is meant to be a life-enhancing support system for patients (and their loved ones/caregivers) facing serious illnesses whose quality of life could be improved.
In addition, palliative medicine teams put great importance on communication between you, your family and your doctors to ensure that your needs are fully met. These include setting goals for your care, helping with decision-making and coordinating care. Palliative medicine is not dependent on prognosis. It is offered with curative and all other appropriate forms of medical treatment.
Any patient can receive palliative medicine who has a serious illness and whose quality of life could be improved, including those with:
Advanced cardiac disease (heart failure, severe coronary artery disease)
End-stage renal (kidney) disease and dialysis
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Cancer (metastatic, recurrent, advanced stage)
Stroke, with decreased function by at least 50 percent
Advanced dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other neurological disorders
Palliative medicine can also be beneficial to patients who have a serious illness and other serious health condition(s) and are facing/have faced:
Problems completing activities of daily living
Two or more hospital readmissions for chronic illness within three months
Difficulty managing physical or emotional symptoms
Code status (what to do in a life-threatening event)
Goals of care
Limited social support
Pain and symptom control
Your palliative medicine team identifies your sources of pain and discomfort. These may include problems with breathing, fatigue, depression, insomnia, bowel or bladder. The team will provide treatments that can offer relief. These might include medicines, along with massage therapy or relaxation techniques.
Communication and coordination
Palliative medicine teams put great importance on communication between you, your family and your doctors to ensure that your needs are fully met. These include setting goals for your medicine, helping with decision-making and coordinating medicine.
Palliative medicine focuses on the entire person, not just the illness. The team members caring for you address any social, psychological, emotional or spiritual needs you may have.
Caregivers bear a great deal of stress, too, so the palliative medicine team supports them as well. This focused attention helps ease some of the strain and can help with decision-making.
You can expect to have more control over your care in a comfortable and supportive atmosphere that reduces anxiety and stress. Your plan of care is reviewed each day by the palliative medicine team. It is discussed with you to make sure your needs and wishes are being met and that your treatments are in line with your goals.
You can expect:
Relief from symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping
Help to carry on with your daily life
Improved ability to go through medical treatments
Better understanding of your condition and your choices for medical care
In short, you can expect the best-possible quality of life.
Most insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover all or part of palliative medicine treatment. If costs concern you, a social worker or financial consultant from the palliative care team can help you with payment options.
The palliative care team provides an extra layer of support and works with your primary doctor. Your primary doctor will continue to direct your care and play an active role in your treatment.
Absolutely. Your treatment choices are up to you. You can get palliative medicine at the same time as treatment meant to cure you.
Everyone involved! Patients, as well as family caregivers, are the special focus of palliative medicine. Your doctors and nurses benefit, too, because they know they are meeting your needs by providing care and treatment that improves your quality of life.
Palliative medicine is available in many places. This includes hospitals, outpatient clinics, long-term care facilities, hospices or home.
Usually a team of specialists, including palliative care doctors, nurses and social workers, provide this type of care. Massage therapists, pharmacists, nutritionists and others might also be part of the team.
After discharge from the hospital, you, your doctor and the palliative care team can discuss outpatient palliative care. Some hospitals also offer outpatient palliative medicine even if you have not been in the hospital. Check with your doctor.
Palliative medicine is for anyone with a serious illness. You can have it at any age and any stage of an illness, and you can have it along with curative treatment. It is not dependent on prognosis. Hospice is an important benefit that provides care for terminally ill patients who may only have a short time to live. People who receive hospice are also no longer receiving curative treatment for their underlying disease.
You can contact:
Melissa Galloway, CRNP, NP-C, Mount Nittany Health
Jacqueline Hahn, RN, BS, CCM, Mount Nittany Health