Few terms in medicine are so commonly misunderstood. So what, then, is palliative care?
In short, it’s care that strives to enhance quality of life by anticipating, preventing, and treating suffering. Ideally administered throughout the continuum of illness, palliative care involves addressing physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual needs, and encouraging patient autonomy, informed decision-making, and choice.
Because it is such a fundamental component of quality end-of-life care, palliative care is frequently confused with hospice. Whereas hospice provides comprehensive comfort-care exclusively for terminally ill patients who typically have been diagnosed with only months to live, palliative care is not dependent upon prognosis. Instead, it is appropriate for anyone with a serious illness, at any age and at any stage of illness, and can be administered alongside treatments meant to cure a patient.
Palliative care is, for instance, often an effective addition to care for such serious, but not necessarily fatal, medical conditions as cancer, cardiovascular disease (CVD), respiratory disease, kidney failure, Alzheimer’s, AIDS, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), and multiple sclerosis.
Community Care of North Carolina (CCNC) and its 14 member networks approach palliative care as one component of comprehensive care-management. We introduce appropriate elements of palliative care as part of life-prolonging treatments in the course of such chronic serious illnesses as those mentioned above, not only toward producing enhanced quality of life for patients and their families, but also in helping to control healthcare costs.
Benefits of Palliative Care to Patients
- Helps them to be as comfortable as possible while undergoing various treatment options, through the management of nausea, vomiting, extreme fatigue, depression, and other challenging symptoms that may be side-effects of the disease process and/or of treatment
- Helps also to control symptoms that often prevent patients from being able to do the things that are important to them
- Involves families closely in care, in understanding, and working through, the hard decisions that may be necessary with someone burdened with a serious, possibly life-limiting, illness.
Benefits of Palliative Care to Providers
- Provides a forum for discussing with patients the goals of care early into the diagnosis of a serious illness
- Helps patients and their families to make realistic and informed choices about care.
Resources Related to Palliative Care
- The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization
- Five Wishes Website: Information on living-wills, healthcare power of attorney, and other relevant legal issues