Palliative care focuses on relieving the discomfort and distress associated with serious illnesses. It's recommended by primary physicians in a variety of situations, whether the illness is likely to be fatal or not. Many medical professionals regard palliative care as something that should be a routine part of a patient's care, but patients and their families often balk at the suggestion that they recieve it. This is likely due to the misconception that palliative care is only applicable for those near the end of their lives. But palliative care is not a stage or phase. While it shares many characteristics of hospice care, it's not synonymous with hospice and has some key differences.
The benefits of palliative care are numerous. Concerns over pain, and other symptoms that may not be part of your regular conversations with a specialist, are part of a typical conversation with doctors and nurses administering palliative care. Additional help can even be supplied from social workers to help coordinate schedules, help organize insurance, or just answer additional questions. Individuals receiving palliative care also typically enjoy a higher quality of life than those receiving standard care. Depression affects fewer palliative care patients, as well.
Palliative care became an approved medical specialty in 2007, and since then it has become an offered service in more than 70-percent of US hospitals. That number explodes to 90-percent of hospitals with more than 300 beds.
Because of the belief that palliative care signals the end of a patient's life expectancy, and the stigma associated with the term 'palliative care', some facilities have started referring to it by a euphemistic name, such as "the symptom management service". This helps to take the fear out of palliative care while also being able to administer the beneficial services patients need.
Those benefits have been proven through a number of studies. One such study, a 2010 randomized trial of 151 lung cancer patients, found that those starting palliative care early in their treatment were less likely to receive aggressive treatments like chemotherapy in their final weeks, but were also found to survive several months longer on average when compared to patients receiving standard treatment. This study also found that, because aggressive treatments were not as prominently used, palliative care patients also enjoyed a much higher quality of life and fewer suffered from depression.
Similar studies have concluded that palliative care patients are less likely to spend time in intensive care units, have greater satisfaction with care, and higher spiritual well-being. For those with lung disease, palliative care patients also reported greater relief from breathlessness.
The key in most of the research conducted has been the length of time a patient spends in palliative care. Typically, the longer the time in palliative care, the more beneficial the care can be. A study of patients in their 60s and 70s found that those who stayed in palliative care for at least 90 days were significantly less likely to have late-life hospitalizations, visit the ICU, or ER.
The reduced hospital visits for most palliative care patients translates into thousand of dollars in savings per patient. That can be attributed to a variety of factors, but namely is due to the pain and symptom management and the increase in quality of life. When patients are comfortable, they're typically less likely to require emergency medical help.
Despite all of this, only about a third of eligible patients ever begin palliative care. For some, they may not be recommended it by their physician, but many others opt not to explore that option due to misconceptions about what palliative care is, and what it means for their prognosis. And that inappropriate association exists even in the mind of many medical professionals.
In reality, about 40-percent of palliative care patients experience improvement in health, and either "graduate" to other treatment options, or no longer need treatment at all.
If you or a loved one are facing a serious illness, call us at Cura-HPC to learn more about palliative care and how it could prove to be beneficial. We can also answer your questions about hospice care, so you can make the best care choices.