Over the past 10 years, palliative care has been one of the fastest growing specialties in the United States. Approximately 90 million Americans are living with a serious illness, and that number is predicted to double over the next 25 years. Also, nearly 20 percent of Americans who are age 65 and older have five or more chronic illnesses. While advancements in modern medicine are allowing people to live longer, as the statistics show you, this will mean living longer with chronic illnesses for many.
People with serious/chronic illnesses such as cancer, dementia, congestive heart failure, chronic kidney disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are often living with extremely burdensome symptoms affecting their overall quality of life. The concept of palliative care has been embraced because improving the quality of life is its main focus. Palliative care is patient-centered, allowing the individual to have control. At Lima Memorial, it is also interdisciplinary. Our interdisciplinary team approach to palliative care includes ensuring the patient and their family members are involved in the decision making process surrounding the health care of themselves or their loved one. Furthermore, palliative care is not just centered on the patient’s physical well-being; it is also centered around their emotional, social and spiritual health as well. The palliative care team coordinates with the patient’s primary care provider and/or other specialties to provide:
• Management of distressing symptoms including pain, nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, anxiety and depression, loss of appetite or other symptoms that may arise
• Navigation of the healthcare system
• Support and guidance in complex treatment choices to define healthcare goals and wishes
• Advanced care planning and assistance with completing living wills and advanced directives
• Coordination of community and medical needs as they may arise day by day
Members of the interdisciplinary palliative care team include a medical doctor, nurse practitioner, registered nurses, social workers, chaplain, pharmacists and other specialists as required by the patients’ individual needs. Each member of the team has a unique role in helping the patient and their families through different stages of their illness.
The medical doctor or nurse practitioner collaborates with the team to make recommendations about medications or treatment options to relieve the patient’s pain, address the patient’s symptoms and ultimately bring comfort. The nurse is available for phone calls or visits to help manage symptoms in coordination with the patients’ providers. The licensed social worker assists with counseling the patient and the family about interpersonal, emotional and lifestyle changes. These changes often occur with a serious illness, and these team members assist with the coordination of community and medical services that are needed and available. The pharmacist assists with recommendations of medications used as part of the patient’s treatment plan, and the chaplain is available to provide spiritual and emotional support throughout the entirety of care. Together, this team is there for the patient to provide a collaborative comprehensive approach to meeting each individual’s unique medical-care needs.
Palliative care is often confused with hospice care. Both of these services are important to patient care, but have their own unique objectives in caring for patients. The definition of hospice care is compassionate comfort care (as opposed to curative care) for people facing a terminal illness with a prognosis of six months or less, based on their physician’s estimate if the disease runs its course as expected. The definition of palliative care is compassionate comfort care that provides relief from the symptoms and physical and mental stress of a serious or life-limiting illness. Palliative care can be pursued at diagnosis, during curative treatment and follow-up and at the end of life. There are no time constraints with palliative care.
For the palliative care team at Lima Memorial Health System, care beyond a cure is our focus. If you think palliative care would be of assistance to you or a loved one, please do not hesitate to reach out to us to learn more.
Jill Gross, Nurse Practitioner, Lima Memorial Palliative Care, 419-998-4647