How Palliative Care Can Smooth Your Cancer Journey

We’ve written a lot about palliative care in the past here on the Regency Blog. As an example, here is a detailed post about the difference between palliative care and hospice care.

As a quick recap, palliative care is an area of healthcare that focuses on relieving and preventing the suffering of patients. This is care given in conjunction with curative medical care, most commonly for cancer. The patient will see an oncologist or other doctor to treat and hopefully cure his cancer, and will also see a palliative care specialist to help manage pain and other unpleasant side effects from the disease and its treatment.

Hospice care, on the other hand, is a philosophy of care that focuses on relieving a terminally ill patient’s symptoms. On hospice care, the patient typically discontinues all curative care, and focuses on physical, emotional, and spiritual support during the last months and weeks of their life.

In short: Palliative care is an important part of the hospice program, but it is also a level of care on its own. Anybody suffering from any uncomfortable disease can benefit from palliative care.

How Does Palliative Care Help With Cancer?

A cancer diagnosis is overwhelming and frightening. Most of the time you need to act quickly against the cancer, and you’re plunged into a world of treatments, pain, and other uncomfortable symptoms.

Palliative care can help maximize your quality of life and peace of mind during the turbulent ride of cancer treatment. Your expert palliative care providers can offer effective pain relief, symptom management, improved communication, and emotional support while you navigate your cancer. The team also extends support to the patient’s loved ones who are also hurting.

The care team usually consists of a doctor or nurse practitioner, a social worker, and a spiritual care provider such as clergy.

Says Dr. Rebecca Burke, palliative care specialist at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, “Palliative care is appropriate at any stage of a cancer diagnosis and can be provided along with curative treatment. The oncology team may refer patients to meet with the palliative care team due to worsening pain, uncontrolled symptoms, or for extra support when facing serious illness.”

Dr. Burke provides palliative care to outpatients at Rutgers Cancer Institute, as well as at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. Her team helps cancer patients manage pain, control nausea, deal with anxiety, and many other issues.

“A growing body of research shows that early consultation with the palliative care team leads to improved pain and symptom management,” Dr. Burke says. “Some studies have even shown improved survival when palliative care is provided early in the course of cancer care.”

Compassionate Hospice Care and Technology

Regency Nursing and Rehab Centers across New Jersey have become synonymous with the very best in compassionate care and skilled nursing, while embracing every available technology to enhance their programs.

I was therefore excited to come across a recent groundbreaking initiative from the Hospice of Michigan.

Hospice Mobile App

Beginning February 20, 2013, Hospice of Michigan is providing its patients and their family members with a free mobile app that will help them stay connected with the teams caring for their loved one.

Studies have shown that 50 percent of family members do not live near enough to their ailing family members to participate actively in their care. HOM wants to close that distance so that caregivers, patients and their friends and family members can stay connected no matter where they are.

The HOM Cares mobile app alerts family and friends when their loved one has received a visit: they can see a picture and read a short bio of the HOM team member making the visit; understand the role of that team member — whether medical, spiritual, social work, volunteer or another type of support and see the date and duration of the visit.

The app was developed with a grant from Verizon Wireless for $24,500 and a matching in-kind donation provide by Compuware, the organization that developed the app for HOM.

Additionally, the organization said it is exploring ways to expand interaction after a patient death that might include sharing of family photo albums, comments or memories, providing details on funeral arrangements and connecting those mourning a loss with grief support and related services.

The free app is available to current Android and iOS device users, who can download it from the Google Play app store or Apple App Store

Palliative and Hospice Care: Where the Lines Blur

 Palliative Care vs. Hospice Care

With the plethora of different levels of care available to patients who are stricken with illnesses, there tends to be confusion when it comes to distinguishing between similar but different treatment programs.

One of the most misunderstood distinctions is as it pertains to the difference between hospice and palliative care.

While both of these programs focus primarily on the quality of life of the patient, the fact is the level of treatment and care can vary quite a bit between these two methodologies.

In this article, I shall attempt to define and distinguish between these two programs.

Palliative Care: is an area of healthcare that focuses on relieving and preventing the suffering of patients. Unlike hospice care, palliative medicine is appropriate for patients in all disease stages, including those undergoing treatment for curable illnesses and those living with chronic diseases, as well as patients who are nearing the end of life.

When a patient is being treated in a palliative care program, the focus is primarily but not exclusively limited to enhancing and addressing their quality of life. There should also be an emphasis placed on treating (and hopefully curing) the patient.

Hospice Care: Hospice is a type of care and a philosophy of care that focuses on the palliation of a terminally ill patient’s symptoms. These symptoms can be physical, emotional, spiritual or social in nature. A patient in a hospice setting wouldn’t typically receive any kind of medically invasive treatment and/or drug, save for something to alleviate pain. There are no goals and/or objectives to treat or cure the patient and therefore all associated programs are discontinued and every attempt is made to keep the patient comfortable as they approach their end of life.

Where the lines get fuzzy…

The problem arises when there is a confluence between these two programs and caregivers start treating their palliative patients as if they were on hospice. This approach is both medically and morally wrong and it is unfortunately something we are seeing with an alarming increase in frequency.

A palliative patient is NOT a hospice patient and although (like a hospice patient) they and their families have placed a great emphasis on easing their pain (whether emotional and/or physical) and increasing their quality of life, the fact remains that they wish to be treated and cured.

Unfortunately, this egregious deviation in care is sometimes perpetuated by certain hospitals and care centers that chart and recommend a course of action for their patients based too heavily on statistical and financial considerations.

The Regency Commitment

At Regency Nursing & Rehabilitation centers, we respect the differences between these two programs and we collaborate with the patients, their families and their doctors, to treat them exactly according to their needs and desires.

In both instances however, whether we are administering palliative or hospice care, our mission is to focus on the individual right of the resident to function at their optimum level without debilitating pain or undue suffering.

We listen to the needs of the patient and we address their physical, spiritual and emotional suffering and we attempt to resolve their psychosocial concerns.

Our approach is one of maintaining and increasing the dignity and quality of life for all of our patients!