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Palliative Care Is Supportive Care
Somewhere along the way, the term “palliative care” picked up a scary reputation. When offered as a treatment option, many think it means death is near.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Palliative care is all about living.
Palliative care professionals offer a support system to help patients live actively with advanced, complex or chronic illnesses. As a team, that can include but isn’t limited to a physician or a nurse practitioner and a social worker. It’s a biopsychosocial approach, addressing not just the physical, but emotional, social and spiritual needs of patients and families, ensuring they have access to all the information and choices ahead. We like to call it supportive care because it’s patient-centered care. A consultation typically lasts from 60 to 90 minutes because we need time to ensure the patient and family have the information they need to make decisions about their care plan.
Consider palliative care as an additional specialty that is part of your larger healthcare plan. For example, someone with congestive heart failure (CHF) might have a primary care physician, cardiologist and pulmonologist on their team. As there is no cure for CHF, and a high probability for frequent hospital visits, it would be wise to have a palliative care provider on their team, too. With all the medications, therapies and other treatments that come with managing CHF, the supportive care team works with other providers to anticipate, prevent and treat suffering, including pain and other symptoms. The goal is to avoid hospitalizations for fluid build-up or difficulty breathing. It is supportive care that’s focused on quality of life for those living with complex illness.
As a specialty, supportive care is covered by most insurance plans. Patients can be seen on an outpatient basis, such as at a medical office, or wherever they call home.
Most importantly, being referred to palliative care doesn’t necessarily mean you are near death. People with complex advanced illnesses such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and sickle cell disease can often live longer because the focus isn’t only on the disease, but the wellbeing of the whole person.
With palliative care, you can still receive curative treatment: You do not have to have a life-limiting diagnosis. Cancer patients turn to palliative teams who often work with oncologists so their journey for a cure has a focus on quality of life.
If someone suggests palliative care, do not panic and assume the worse. It can be the first step to better days.
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