Palliative care represents a different model of care, focusing not on cure at any cost but on relief and prevention of suffering. The priority is supporting the best possible quality of life for the patient and family, regardless of prognosis. Although palliative care is provided in tandem with curative treatments, most people associate it with end-of-life care.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Palliative care is aggressive medicine that focuses on what is troubling the patient the most, whether it is nausea, pain, confusion, loss of appetite or depression. It only improves a patient’s ability to tolerate medical treatments and have the strength to carry on with daily life.
Palliative care treats people suffering from serious and chronic illnesses such as cancer, stroke, HIV/AIDS, cardiac disease such as congestive heart failure (CHF), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), kidney failure, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) to name a few.
A team of physicians, nurses, social workers and chaplains work with a patient’s other physicians to provide an extra layer of support. Other team members may include pharmacists and other complementary care professionals.
Together with the patient, family, and primary physician, the palliative care team:
- Manages complex pain and other debilitating symptoms
- Takes time to talk with patients regarding their wishes and goals
- Coordinates care with the patient’s physician and other specialists involved in the patient’s care and treatment
- Treats the whole person by meeting medical, emotional, spiritual and social needs
- Provides support to family members who are coping with changes in their loved one’s health status and eases stress caused by the patient’s serious condition
- Helps patients and families understand the choices they may face and anticipate their future needs
- Provides patients more control over their care.
The main goal of palliative care is to improve a patient’s quality of life and is not dependent upon whether or not his or her condition can be cured. A patient does not have to be on hospice or at the end of life to receive palliative care. Palliative care is for anyone at any age and any stage of an illness. For more information on palliative care and the St. Alexius team, click here.
Laura Archuleta, MD, is a primary care physician with Mandan Medical Plaza. She serves as medical director for St. Alexius’ palliative care program. She is certified by the American Board of Family Medicine and holds a Certificate of Added Qualification in Hospice and Palliative Care.