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Is palliative care for you?

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Most people are aware of hospice care and what it pertains to but a closely related medical specialty is relatively unknown.  Palliative care seeks to address the multiple ways that illness affects a person whether the effects are physical, financial, spiritual etc.  The focus is on treating the symptoms of the disease or the side effects of treatment so that the patient can remain comfortable. 

It also offers emotional support to patients and their families.  While it is used in conjunction with other medical treatment, it is not designed to cure the underlying condition.  For instance, palliative care may work to control nausea, constipation and pain while an individual is being treated for cancer.  It is not an attempt to cure the cancer.

Nearly 90 percent of large American hospitals already have palliative care consultation services, according to the Center to Advance Palliative Care but less than 10 percent of hospitals have designated palliative care units in the hospital.  Here’s a breakdown on the differences between the two disciplines.

Hospice vs Palliative Care

There’s an expression that the “cure is worse than the disease.”  This can be especially true of things such as cancer.  The benefit of palliative care isn’t just the treatment for symptoms outside the disease; the benefits also lie in the open communication between the patient and his or her health care provider.  In a study by the Institute of Medicine, researchers found that nearly 25 percent of patients reported that their clinician failed to share important information about test results or medical history with others involved in their care.  On top of the lack of communication between health care professionals, researchers also found that they only involved the patient’s preferences in medical decisions half the time and that 70 percent to 80 percent of patients with poor prognosis incorrectly believed that their treatments were likely to result in a cure.  That’s a lot of miscommunication being perpetrated against an audience already suffering from other issues including financial ones.

A lot of medical decisions are made by the physician to prevent malpractice suits.  As a result, another study found that there is a lack of evidence to support many medical decisions made today especially in older adults.  For the patients, the outcome may not only be that they are not cured but that overall they are a great deal more broke.  A national survey found that over one-third of personal bankruptcies in the United States are due to medical problems despite the fact that three out of four people who declared bankruptcy had health insurance.

Palliative care provides the patient the option of working to extend their function and supports their quality of life regardless of their prognosis.  Patients have more of an ability to clarify the benefits of various treatment options, determine if the overall results will allow them to maximize their quality of life and participate more fully in their health care.  That doesn’t mean that palliative care is end of life care, it’s care for an individual during the duration of a serious illness regardless of the outcome rather than the usual focus on trying to win a battle that may be unwinnable without taking into account the patient’s values and goals.

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