Human life expectancy in the past 100 years has been substantially lengthened as a result of advances in medical science. However, as we know, the quality of an extended life span isn’t always great. Many people live with serious illnesses such as COPD, Heart Disease, Cancer, Parkinson’s Disease etc. for many years, often spending those years suffering extreme physical and emotional pain.
While the medical community continues to focus on finding cures for these illnesses and conditions, an important part of administering medical care is easing a patient’s pain. This is what is known as palliative care and only recently – within the last 10 years or so – has palliative care become a new discipline of medicine.
What is palliative care? It is specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. It focuses on providing patients with relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal of palliative care is to improve the quality of life for both the patient and the patient’s family.
Palliative care is provided by a specially trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists such as social workers and chaplains, who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide extra support. Palliative care specialists undergo additional training and certification in order to provide palliative care services.
Palliative care is often coupled with hospice care, however, they are not the same. Hospice care is for patients who are terminally ill, and have an expected lifespan of less than six months. Palliative care is available for any patient with a serious or advanced disease who needs the added support that it care can provide.
Palliative care specialists can play an important role in helping patients and their families discuss and make important and difficult decisions about their medical care. That could include evaluating the different treatment options presented to the patient, weighing the pros and cons of each. They can also assist in focusing on the future, on what the patient may or may not want as his/her condition declines.
The palliative care team can facilitate this discussion well ahead of an acute medical crisis. Knowing what the patient wants or doesn’t want helps to reduce the stress level of all involved when that medical crisis does arrive.
Navigating the waters of palliative care and hospice care can feel overwhelming. Let us help you to make that trip easier with a Health Care Proxy and Living Will and a Release of Protected Health Information (HIPAA, commonly).
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