When confronted with a serious medical condition or a terminal diagnosis, patients and their loved ones can find themselves facing complex challenges and difficult decisions. Often, palliative care arises as an option to help provide care and support during these trying times. However, if you’ve yet to experience palliative care, it can be difficult to understand what it is, what it entails, and how it might help you or a loved one. We’ll discuss all this and more in the following post.
What is palliative care?
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines palliative care as medical and related care provided to a patient with a serious, life-threatening, or terminal illness to manage symptoms, relieve pain and discomfort, improve the quality of life, and meet the emotional, social, and spiritual needs of the patient.
Is it just for end-of-life situations?
Although palliative care focuses on patients who are facing serious life-threatening or life-limiting conditions, it is not only for patients who are at the end of their lives. Instead, it is intended to help patients live more comfortably with their ongoing condition. Furthermore, palliative care practitioners care for patients at any stage in their illness or injury, providing treatment plans for symptom management and helping patients and their families set goals for their care. That said, part of palliative care may include education or discussions about things like hospice care options for those struggling with serious illness.
What is the goal of palliative care?
The main goal of palliative care is to alleviate pain and manage symptoms while improving the patient’s overall well-being and quality of life. Additionally, it includes identifying patients’ goals for their care, and providing emotional and spiritual support while considering the whole patient and their personal situation. It can also be provided alongside other treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy, as well as at any stage of illness, from diagnosis to the end of life.
What are the benefits?
The benefits of palliative care are many and varied. Here are some of the most common:
Enhanced Quality of Life
Palliative care places a strong emphasis on improving the patient’s quality of life. Addressing physical symptoms, managing pain, and improving overall well-being, allows patients to live their lives more comfortably and with dignity.
Reduced Stress and Anxiety
Palliative care can also help people and their families cope with the emotional and spiritual challenges of serious illness. This can include providing emotional support, helping people make informed decisions about their care, providing guidance on navigating a complex healthcare landscape, and connecting them with resources in the community.
Palliative care professionals work as part of a multidisciplinary team which can include doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, care coordinators, social workers, chaplains, and other specialists to provide holistic support. They offer emotional and psychological counseling, help patients and families navigate complex medical decisions, and offer spiritual support based on individual beliefs.
Improved Symptom Management
Palliative care specialists are experts in managing pain and controlling distressing symptoms. They employ a variety of techniques, including medications, physical therapy, counseling, and complementary therapies, to ensure optimal symptom control.
Care Coordination and Communication
Palliative care teams excel at facilitating communication between patients, families, and healthcare providers. They ensure that everyone involved in a patient’s care is on the same page, promoting effective coordination and reducing potential misunderstandings or conflicts.
Continuity of Care
Palliative care aims to provide seamless transitions between different care settings. Whether it’s a hospital, nursing home, or home-based care, palliative care professionals work to ensure continuity and consistency in the patient’s treatment plan.
Reduced Hospital Admissions and Costs
Studies have shown that palliative care can help reduce hospital admissions and costs. This is because palliative care can help people manage their symptoms at home or in another facility, so they do not need to go to the hospital as often.
What does palliative care include?
Palliative care is often provided by a team of healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, social workers, chaplains, and other specialists. The team works together to create a care plan that meets the individual needs of the patient and their family. Here are a few specific examples of things palliative care might include:
- Improve the quality of life for patients, their caregivers, and loved ones.
- Manage and provide relief from pain and other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, and fatigue.
- Provide emotional and spiritual support to the patient and their family.
- Help the patient understand and make informed decisions about their care.
- Coordinate care with other healthcare providers and help the patient, their loved ones, and caregivers navigate the healthcare system.
- Help the patient and their family cope with the physical, emotional, and social challenges of serious illness.
When is it appropriate?
Palliative care is appropriate at any stage of a serious illness, from diagnosis to the end of life. It can be provided alongside other treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. Here are some specific examples of when palliative care might be appropriate:
- Serious Illness or Terminal Diagnosis. Palliative care is often appropriate when a patient is diagnosed with a serious illness or receives a terminal prognosis. It provides comfort and support by managing symptoms, such as pain, nausea, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Palliative care professionals work collaboratively with the patient’s primary medical team to ensure the best possible symptom control.
- Complex or Chronic Conditions. Palliative care is beneficial for patients with complex or chronic conditions that significantly impact their quality of life. Diseases like cancer, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), dementia, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) can benefit from the integrative care provided by palliative care specialists.
- Disease Progression or Treatment Side Effects. Palliative care becomes appropriate when a patient’s illness progresses, and treatment options are limited or ineffective. It focuses on helping patients manage the physical and emotional burden of their illness, addressing treatment side effects, and assisting in decision-making processes.
- Intensive Care and Hospitalizations. Palliative care is often appropriate during hospitalizations and in intensive care settings. It provides essential support to patients and families, helping them navigate complex medical procedures and difficult treatment choices. Palliative care professionals work closely with the medical team to ensure patient comfort and dignity during hospital stays.
Where is it provided?
Palliative care can be provided in a variety of settings, including the patient’s home, a nursing home or skilled nursing facility (SNF), a hospital, or even a separate hospice center. At The Advanced Care Group, we believe the best setting for palliative care depends on the individual patient’s needs and preferences.
What’s the difference between palliative care and hospice care?
When people reference “palliative care,” they often quickly associate it with “hospice care.” However, it is important to understand that these are two different types of care. Essentially, the main difference between palliative care and hospice is that palliative care can start at the time of diagnosis for advanced illnesses, whereas hospice is an insurance benefit available only to those diagnosed with a terminal illness and who have less than six months to live. To clarify, hospice care is a type of palliative care that is specifically for people who are in the last few months of life. However, palliative care can be provided at any stage of illness, even if someone is not eligible for hospice care.
Is palliative care right for you or your loved one?
If you are living with a serious illness or injury, or caring for someone who is, palliative care may be right for you. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Palliative care is not about giving up hope. It is about living as fully as possible, regardless of your prognosis.
- Palliative care can be provided at any stage of illness, not just at the end of life.
- Palliative care is not the same as hospice care. Hospice care is a type of palliative care that is specifically for people who are in the last few months of life.
- You can still receive other types of treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy while receiving palliative care.
- Palliative care is covered by most insurance plans.
If you are considering palliative care for yourself or a loved one, talk to your doctor about whether it might be right for you.
Palliative Care at The Advanced Care Group (ACG)
Our team at ACG believes in partnering with each patient to determine the best care plan based on their specific symptoms and situation. We also believe that by treating patients with compassion, helping them feel their best during treatment, and enabling them to decide their own personal goals of care, we can ease some of the burdens associated with their serious condition.
That’s why our team first meets with each patient to discuss their expectations and treatment goals, as well as better understand their personal values and priorities. During treatment, our team of specialists is focused on helping patients manage pain and other symptoms (such as trouble breathing, nausea, worry, or stress), while understanding and adhering to the patient’s defined goals and expectations. Importantly, our process also allows us to help patients and families understand their situation, support them, and assist them in all aspects of their comfort care.
Palliative care is a valuable service that can help people with serious conditions live better lives. If you are facing a serious illness, or if you are caring for someone who is, talk to your doctor about whether palliative care is right for you or call us at 615.941.8550.
About The Advanced Care Group
The Advanced Care Group (ACG) is a healthcare company based in Middle TN that specializes in providing full-service medical management for patients with acute and chronic conditions in both the home and the skilled nursing facility setting. Our home-based (in-home) medical care provides support for patients with complex medical conditions like a chronic or serious illness, injury, disability, or following a major surgery. Our in-patient skilled nursing services include acute and chronic disease management with a focus on transitioning the patient from hospital to home or long-term disease/distressful symptom management for long-term care patients.
This blog provides general information and discussions about health and related subjects. The information and other content provided in this blog, or in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment.
If you or any other person has a medical concern, you should consult with your healthcare provider or seek other professional medical treatment. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something read on this blog or in any linked materials. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or emergency services immediately.
The opinions and views expressed on this blog and website have no relation to those of any academic, hospital, health practice, or other institution.