What is Palliative Care?
When a cancer patient comes through the doors of OHC, we know at some point — and we hope it’s many, many years from now — that they may need good palliative care.
According to WHO (the World Health Organization), palliative care is an approach for improving the quality of life of patients (and their families) with life-threatening illnesses such as terminal cancer. Our job is to prevent and relieve their suffering by identifying the problem early, accurately assessing their situation and needs, and treating their pain and other problems (from physical to spiritual).
For these patients, our palliative care goal at OHC is to improve their life, regardless of whether they continue to receive treatment or not.
It is best to introduce palliative care options from the get-go. When introduced early, patients are prepared for the discussion when the time comes to transition from aggressive care to palliative or hospice care.
Aggressive, expensive treatment isn’t right for all patients and for many, it stops being helpful at some point. Palliative care is a way to take care of the patient in the best way possible, which doesn’t always include the most hi-tech or intense treatment.
There are three parts to palliative care, the first being palliative care as symptom management.
First, we manage side effects from chemotherapy or radiation therapy, typically nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. Symptom management focuses on how to make the patient as comfortable as possible, whether they’re under curative treatment, no treatment, surveillance, or end-stage treatment.
The second part of palliative care considers how patients will fare with treatment. At OHC, we strive to use curative and aggressive care, and have extensive research at hand for our patients. However, there are patients who may not recover from a cancer diagnosis. It is equally important to know when treatment is more harmful than helpful.
Patients dealing with advanced end-stage or terminal cancer need palliative care right away. They may be under our care for weeks, months, or even years. But to help them best, we must talk sensitively, and openly and honestly, about a diagnosis of cancer that we cannot cure.
We stress that while some may no longer be receiving treatment, they are still our patients and we want the best quality of life for them. More chemo or aggressive care is not always the answer.
The third part of palliative care is hospice care. Hospice care is appropriate for end-stage disease that we know we cannot cure. Contrary to what many people believe, studies show that patients who utilize hospice care live longer and more comfortably than patients who don’t.
Through our association with Hospice of Cincinnati, OHC is a confident provider of a strong, supportive safety net for its patients, their families, and caregivers. Our relationship with Hospice of Cincinnati helps us optimize hospice care for our patients and we are proud of the fabulous program we offer them.
But palliative care is not limited to patients; caregivers and families benefit too. Patients often fear they are a burden to their families or caregivers. Social workers, chaplains, and volunteers with hospice help take the psychological burden off patients and let them focus on comfort. With hospice care, we find that caregivers and family members experience far less grief, stress, and other health issues.
With good attention to palliative care, patients can experience better control of their symptoms, as well as a better understanding of what can be done either with medications or lifestyle interventions.
At OHC, we strive at the beginning of our care to gently educate our patients and their families about palliative care. Patients must choose the best type of care for themselves, and many times this is palliative or hospice care. Our patients’ comfort and quality of life is of the utmost importance in treating their disease.