Palliative care helps people cope with serious illness

November 12, 2021 Swedish Health Team

[4 MIN READ / 6 MIN LISTEN]

In this article:

  • Palliative care is a medical specialty that helps people with serious illnesses experience the best quality of life possible.
  • Palliative care specialists focus on managing physical symptoms, such as pain and nausea. They also help patients and their loved ones cope with the emotional, spiritual and psychological effects of a serious, long-term illness.
  • Ellyn Lee, M.D., explains the Palliative Care and Symptom Management program at Swedish, which is offered in the hospital and outpatient setting.

If you or someone you love are living with a serious disease or condition such as cancer or heart failure, you know how stressful and confusing the experience can be. You may not know that a team of palliative care specialists is here to help patients manage their symptoms and side effects so that they can experience the best quality of life possible.

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, a good opportunity to learn more about palliative care and its benefits. Palliative care is a specialized area of medicine serving people who have a serious illness. It focuses on symptom relief and quality of life. Studies show that palliative care helps people:

  • Manage their pain and symptoms
  • Have shorter hospital stays
  • Feel better
  • Live longer

We offer Palliative Care and Symptom Management clinics at Swedish Edmonds and First Hill and inpatient palliative services at Swedish Edmonds, First Hill, Issaquah and Cherry Hill. These clinics are a vital part of our mission of improving the health and wellbeing of each person we serve. After all, healing is about more than treating the disease. It is about providing comfort and easing suffering along the way.

Helping people regain mental, physical strength

Ellyn Lee, M.D., medical director of Swedish Palliative Care Services, leads a dedicated team of nurse practitioners, nurses, physician assistants, social workers and chaplains to provide an extra layer of support.

“We work hand-in-hand with primary and specialty care physicians to help patients who are coping with a wide variety of illnesses, including cancer, neurological conditions, heart conditions and end-stage kidney failure,” says Dr. Lee.

“We work hand-in-hand with primary and specialty care physicians to help patients who are coping with a wide variety of illnesses, including cancer, neurological conditions, heart conditions and end-stage kidney failure,” says Dr. Lee. “We create a palliative care treatment plan with patients that focuses on helping them regain their mental and physical strength so that they can better tolerate their medical treatment.”

Palliative care services at Swedish include:

  • Answering questions you may have about your illness and the treatments you receive.
  • Helping you set goals for care.
  • Prescribing medication to relieve physical symptoms.
  • Connecting you to psychological and spiritual support.
  • Helping you and your family adjust to the illness and effects of treatment.
  • Coordinating essential resources, such as transportation or financial support.

Palliative care is sometimes confused with hospice care, but the two are not the same. 

Palliative care is sometimes confused with hospice care, but the two are not the same. “People can begin receiving palliative care as soon as they have been diagnosed,” Dr. Lee explains. “And they can continue receiving it as long as they need and want it. In contrast, hospice is for people who are no longer receiving treatment to cure their illness. The goal of hospice is to make individuals as comfortable as possible in the last six months of life.”

When to seek palliative care

Patients respond differently to treatment, and there is no “right” time to begin outpatient palliative care. Dr. Lee encourages people to consider making an appointment at one of the Swedish Palliative Care and Symptom Management Clinics if they are experiencing any of the following:

  • Uncontrolled pain.
  • Symptoms that aren’t responding to treatment.
  • Severe nausea or vomiting.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Psychological distress, including anxiety, agitation or emotional or spiritual anguish.
  • Uncertainty about healthcare decisions, quality of life or progress.

Making difficult decisions together

Palliative care specialists can help patients and families set goals and make difficult choices about the type of care they wish to receive. “These conversations often happen in the hospital, when a patient is at a crossroads in their health journey,” Dr. Lee says. “We might talk about the path they want to take, whether it’s supportive care, hospice, full treatment or somewhere in between. These can be difficult conversations, but they are so important in ensuring that the care a person receives is tailored to their needs and wants.”

Connect with the palliative care team

Most health insurance plans cover palliative care services. If you are interested in meeting with the palliative care team, ask your doctor for a referral to one of our Swedish Palliative Care and Symptom Management Clinics. Or contact our team directly at 206-386-2126.

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Find a doctor

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult with a doctor or palliative care team, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a physician, caregiver or advanced care practitioner, you can use our provider directory.

Related resources

Meet the Swedish palliative care team

How palliative care helps the critically ill

Palliative care and symptom management clinic at SCI

Adam’s story: Fighting cancer and pain

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional’s instructions.

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