Why You Should Request an Extra Layer of Support When Living with a Serious Illness
By Andrew Esch, MD
Did you know that most large hospitals in the U.S. have a specialized medical team that uniquely cares for people living with serious illnesses? If you or a loved one has any type of cancer, heart or kidney disease, dementia/Alzheimer’s disease, or any other serious illness, you should know about this extra layer of medical support. It’s called palliative care and focuses on relieving symptoms and stress that so often come with these kinds of illnesses.
The goal of palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. Palliative care is provided by a specially-trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided along with curative treatment.
Experts in Symptom Management, Care Coordination and More
Your palliative care team has expert training in managing symptoms and treatment side effects. Palliative care teams help patients and families in many ways, like avoiding unwanted and unnecessary trips to the hospital.
In addition, they will make sure you have the support you need to make informed decisions about your care. Having a serious illness often means having many doctors. Your palliative care team will make sure that you, your family, and your doctors are all on the same page. They will take the time to get to know you, help you plan goals for your treatment, and coordinate with your other doctors to match your treatment options to your goals.
Palliative Care is Available in Many Settings and Most Hospitals
As of 2019, more than 70% of hospitals (with 50 or more beds) in the U.S. have a palliative care team to help people living with a serious illness. And when people receive palliative care during hospital stays, they spend fewer days in the intensive care unit, have less pain, and are happier with the care that they receive. They may also be less likely to end up back in the hospital. Palliative care is also becoming more available outside of the hospital, in clinics and at home.
What This Means for You
If you or a family member are living with a serious illness, ask your doctor for a palliative care referral as early as possible. To find out which hospitals or clinics provide palliative care where you live, search this Palliative Care Provider Directory.
To learn more about palliative care, visit GetPalliativeCare.org, an online resource with clear, comprehensive palliative care information for people living with a serious illness. The site is provided by the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC).
Dr. Esch is medical education consultant to the Center to Advance Palliative Care. A palliative care specialist, Dr. Esch focuses on improving quality of life for patients and their families as they face serious illness. Dr. Esch earned his medical degree from the University of Buffalo.