What is palliative care?
Palliative care is a consultative medical specialty that addresses the impacts of complex illness on the whole body. It is a practice of medical care that integrates not only the physical component of care but the psychological, social and spiritual aspects of care. One of the keys to palliative care is the partnership between several disciplines that include oncology, social work, mental health, physical therapy and many more.
Specialists in this field recognize that when navigating extreme illness, they serve as a bridge between the patient and the other teams involved. Medicine is a complex system and for patients that can often feel like trying to wrangle a flailing octopus. One of the goals of palliative care is to help lasso that octopus by easing symptoms and simplifying care, in order to meet the patient’s goals for quality of life. Recognizing that every patient’s story, diagnosis, treatment plan and journey are unique, palliative care chooses to approach each patient with a holistic and personalized model of care. The aim is to optimize quality of life and mitigate suffering through a serious of different measures, which can be medicinal or non-medicinal. Palliative care specialists and cancer care providers work together to provide more comprehensive care for patients and ensure that all of the patients’ needs are being met.
Goals of palliative care
Palliative care helps patients to better understand their prognosis and the choices they have for treatment by looking at it more holistically. Specialists can give another opinion from a different perspective to help the patient make medical decisions based on what is consistent with their values and how they want to spend their life. Furthermore, a palliative care team ensures that patients are having their symptoms and pain managed in a way that helps them to be fulfilled in life and continue carrying out everyday activities. Specialists can also ease the burden on family members by providing counseling or help in navigating the medical system.
When should a patient receive palliative care?
While there is no set ‘right’ time to begin receiving care, generally “the earlier the better” rings true. Studies have shown that patients who integrate it early after their cancer diagnosis experience an overall better quality of life. They report less symptoms, less anxiety and depression, are more likely to have their needs and goals met and can have increased survival rates.
It is appropriate at any age, stage of cancer, and any time during a patient’s treatment, in order to help people, live as well as possible while being treated for cancer.
Palliative care specialists work to personalize their care and services around the cancer patient, as each person, diagnosis, treatment, and experience is different. Patients who have any of the following symptoms should talk with a palliative care specialist to discuss receiving care.
- Symptoms and pain that are not being treated or able to be managed
- Confusion or uncertainty with treatment options and health care decisions
- Extreme nausea and/or vomiting
Most health insurance plans cover the cost of palliative care services. Check with your insurance provider to see if treatment costs can be covered. If you are interested in integrating palliative care into your oncology care, please consult with your doctor.