How can we best support patients as they transition to or are actively in palliative care?
By helping our patients understand what palliative care is and its benefits. Sometimes patients are afraid of the word palliative – they associate it with death or dying. Recently, someone asked me, “Since I am seeing you, does that mean I am dying? How long do I have?” This question was asked on the third visit with me helping this individual with mucositis from chemo radiation. I explained to the patient that my job is to get them through the pain of chemo/radiation and to improve their quality of life. I also took the time to explain the role of palliative care.
How do you help to support physicians as their patients transition to palliative care?
By listening to our patients’ needs. Sometimes, I find myself doing more than just pain and symptom management. I spend a significant amount of time answering patients’ questions about the healthcare system, helping our patients navigate the different services, and helping them understand the different specialties within Smilow. Sometimes, our patients have difficulty navigating the healthcare system and often they feel lost. I have had patients contact me for things that are out of our team’s scope. Fortunately, our Oncology Care Model provides a wonderful service to our patients. Historically, this service was not available through all insurance carriers, but I am excited to hear today that this program will now be available to all our patients.
What are the emotional and possibly physical benefits to a patient who decides to enter palliative care?
The emotional benefit is our interdisciplinary team has clinical social workers, clinical psychologists, and spiritual care to help address our patients’ emotional needs. Specifically, our team helps address anxiety, depression, coping with serious illness, and offers spiritual care. Because of this, our patients often report an improvement in their pain, nausea, lack of appetite, mood, and sleep.
How has the field of palliative care evolved in recent years?
The acceptance of palliative care has evolved. More patients are self-referring to palliative care and I am also seeing more referrals from our colleagues in oncology.
As we recognize hospice and palliative care month, what do you want people to know about this field? Are there any misconceptions that can be explained?
We want people to know that we are here to offer an extra layer of support to patients and families. Palliative care is not hospice. Palliative and hospice providers are here to provide comfort and care to our patients, but we are not here to hasten death.