What is Palliative Care?

As physical illness advances and one approaches the limits of modern medicine in improving quality of life, a palliative care team can guide patients and their families in the transition from diagnosis and treatment focus to a goal of comfort and life quality. The goal of palliative care is to achieve and sustain the highest quality of life for patients by providing aggressive pain and symptom management. Palliative care is often underutilized in patients with advanced lung disease, heart disease and dementia. Most people would prefer to die at home, however, due to the lack of early palliative care involvement, the majority end up dying in the hospital setting.

How is Palliative care different from Hospice?

Hospice can only provide services to people with a terminal disease who have less than six months to live. People receiving hospice services can no longer receive treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, frequent blood transfusions, and certain medications. Palliative care does not share these same limitations and can be provided along with treatment for your illness or as part of hospice care in the last stages of your life.

Who needs Palliative Care?

People with cancer, dementia, advanced heart disease (heart failure), advanced lung disease (emphysema, chronic bronchitis, pulmonary fibrosis), advanced neuromuscular disorders, liver cirrhosis, or end stage kidney disease. As mentioned above, palliative care is a good fit at any stage of a serious or long term illness.

What does Palliative Care offer?

  • Relief from symptoms caused by advanced medical illness; such as pain, nausea, constipation, trouble sleeping, anxiety, and shortness of breath.
  • Guidance with difficult treatment decisions
  • Help navigating the healthcare system
  • Matching healthcare goals with medical treatment
  • Help with end of life care decisions
  • Providing support when talking to loved ones about medical decisions
  • Providing support when making decisions for a loved one who is unable to communicate
  • Helping family members come to an agreement when they disagree with medical treatment
  • Hospice information when needed

How did you become interested in palliative care?

Early in my Internal Medicine career, I developed a passion for caring for patients with advanced illness. I enjoy guiding patients and their families in their decisions regarding the balance between treatments and quality of life. I have been an active member of the inpatient Palliative Care Consult service at Sacred Heart RiverBend Hospital since its inception and became Board Certified in Palliative Medicine and Hospice in 2010.