Palliative care improves life for patients with chronic illness

October 16, 2019 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

Dealing with a chronic or terminal illness presents many challenges.

Palliative and hospice care can help patients and their families deal with the diagnosis of serious illness by providing relief from symptoms to reduce suffering and improve quality of life while living with the disease.

Although palliative care and hospice focus primarily on quality of life, there are differences between the two types of care.

Palliative care

Patients who are living with a chronic, serious illness can benefit from consultation in palliative care services. The criteria to receive palliative care services is not based on prognosis. It is based on need to treat complex symptoms related to the disease.

“We help our patients so they’re not suffering. Our goals are to attain quality of life while they are living with the disease,” says Nooshig Salvador, M.D., MSOM, system medical director for Edward-Elmhurst Health palliative care services.

A palliative care team will work with the patient and their family to discuss care goals depending on the stage of the disease. Sometimes the team spends a considerable amount of time educating patients and caregivers about the nature of the disease and how it affects the body.

When patients have a clear understanding of how their body is changing over time, they make better healthcare decisions. At some point, this may include discussions regarding end-of-life care. The palliative care team can also help patients prepare necessary documents like advance directives.

Palliative care can be received by patients at any time and at any stage of illness, whether it be terminal or not. It is provided simultaneously with other forms of treatment and can help get symptoms under control while you are undergoing treatments that may even reverse the effects of your illness.

Palliative care is coordinated with the primary doctor and specialty doctors treating the chronic condition. It uses the approach of shared medical decision making, which may include medications to treat symptoms like complex pain.

Patients may also be referred to counseling to treat depression, and care may include other non-conventional options like acupuncture, nutrition or meditation to provide holistic treatment.

“We’re there as long as they need us,” Dr. Salvador says.

Hospice care

When the trajectory of illness advances, palliative care serves as a bridge to hospice care.

Hospice care is a type of palliative care that focuses on helping a patient entering the final stages of life live as fully and comfortably as possible, pain-free and with dignity. Treatments are limited and focus on relief of symptoms. The goal is no longer to cure but promote comfort. Patients can voluntarily enter hospice services when their prognosis is less than six months of life.

Hospice care helps the patient live the last stages of their life free from artificial nutrition, tubes, machines and tests. It allows the ability to maximize quality of life when the body is at its end stage of life.

“It’s an approach where nature takes its course,” Dr. Salvador says.

Hospice services, which are covered through Medicare and most private insurance plans, can be delivered in the home. Medications are used to relieve pain or other symptoms. Special equipment —such as a hospital bed — may be delivered to the home to help keep patients safe and comfortable.

A team of hospice workers also help provide guidance or counseling to the patient’s family as their loved one goes through the final stages of life. They are available on an on-call basis for patients who decide to stay at home and have a 24/7 caregiver.

Hospice services may be used in a skilled nursing facility, however most health insurance plans will not pay for the room and board.

Learn more about palliative care services and hospice services offered at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Explore services at the Integrative Medicine Clinic.

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