Huh? Although medical care has certainly become incredibly specialized, whenever I’ve suggested that a client consider asking for a palliative care consult, the first response is “What’s that?” or a close second “I’m not dying, why would I want that??”
In our current environment in many cases palliative care and hospice are often provided as one service, and not the continuum of services from which palliative care as a stand alone is beginning to emerge.
The Association for the Advancement of Palliative Care defines it this way: “Palliative care, and the medical sub-specialty of palliative medicine, is specialized medical care for people living with serious illness. It focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness—whatever the diagnosis. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.”
“Palliative care is provided by a team of palliative care doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness and can be provided along with curative treatment.” (My emphasis)
Palliative care is about hearing what matters to the patient in managing their condition, addressing what’s not working, and helping patients enhance the quality of their lives. If you ask for a palliative care consult in the hospital, it’s becoming more likely that your hospital will have such a team. But they may also be more focused on introducing patients to withdrawing curative care than on the broader focus of considering how to optimize the quality of your life when you’re dealing with a serious illness, whether it’s breathing or constipation, pain or not sleeping, or getting the emotional support you need.
This is a very different from hospice, when the decision to stop curative treatment and focus on symptom management is made. While the focus of hospice (symptom management) may be the same as palliative care, the difference is that patients in palliative care continue their active treatment as planned, and have the additional palliative care specialists to focus on managing their symptoms and providing support.
Palliative care doesn’t replace your current medical team; it’s provided in addition to it. Any chronic condition (congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer, even diabetes) can be served by the addition of palliative care specialists. Most hospitals have teams, and many skilled nursing facilities are adding palliative care teams as well. But finding resources on an out patient basis can be challenging, and even many primary care physicians aren’t aware of the full role that palliative care can play in empowering patients and improving quality of life.
If you think palliative care might be helpful for you or a loved one, for a directory of hospital based palliative care options, go to www.getpalliativecare.org and for general information about palliative care services, visit The Center to Advance Palliative Care. https://www.capc.org/about/palliative-care/