Over the last decade or so health care delivery has consistently shifted. Patients are being treated more with person centered care, seeing the person beyond the chronic disease. In light of this, the medical community is seeing tremendous growth in the area of palliative medicine. Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with serious illness. It has developed over the last decade to improve the delivery of health care to seniors by focusing on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. Palliative care approaches serious illness by treating both the physical and emotional problems of the patient. When a patient’s emotional needs are met along with their physical care needs, they consistently report a greater quality of life.

Palliative care can be given at the time of a diagnosis of an illness, during treatment and follow up or at the end of life. Palliative care typically involves an interdisciplinary approach to patient care, meaning many different providers are consulted during treatment. The providers may include doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners, social workers, pharmacists or psychologists. Palliative care can be provided in hospitals, long term care facilities, or in the patient’s home. While receiving palliative care, patients can remain under the care of their regular provider and still receive treatment for their illness.

Patients with complex illness such as cancer, heart disease, lung disease, dementia or kidney disease can benefit from palliative care. Physical symptoms common to these illnesses and the side effects of treatment their treatments, such as pain, difficulty sleeping, shortness of breath or poor appetite can all be addressed with palliative care. Treatment modalities can include medication or by incorporating other provider services such as physical therapy. Palliative medicine can also address the stress, depression, anxiety and/or fear associated with serious illness and treatment.

Providers in palliative medicine are experts in helping patients explore the advanced patient-focused care options that are available.  This patient focus includes counseling and respecting a patient’s choice for care decisions and advanced medical directives. Ultimately, palliative care provides a complete focus on the patient’s physical and emotional quality of life during their illness.

Written by: Beth Biedrzycki, Pharm D., BCGP