“I wish we had called sooner.”
This sentiment is something that so many families find themselves saying after a loved one has been under the compassionate care of a hospice and palliative care provider. Misconceptions and lack of information about the benefits of palliative and hospice services are often what prevent families from seeking support sooner.
During National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, Hospice of Huntington and Tri-State LifeCare are working to spread awareness of this very important, and often underutilized, medical subspecialty that is available to patients and their families in our community.
Defining palliative and hospice care
Palliative care is the overarching term that describes medical care focused on providing comfort and quality of life to a patient who is living with a chronic, debilitating illness. Services can begin, even with limited need, as early as the time of diagnosis of a chronic illness. During the early palliative phase, medical treatments and therapies continue to be used in conjunction with palliative care.
Medicare made the decision in the early 1980’s to define hospice care as a distinct level of palliative care. It is the highest level of support for patients with life expectancies of less than six months and focuses on providing the best quality of life and comfort for as long as possible.
For the best quality of life, the optimal scenario is for the patient to begin utilizing palliative care at the time a serious illness is diagnosed and then transition to hospice care once the need arises. With both palliative and hospice care, individualized care plans are carefully crafted to meet the unique needs of the patient and their families.
In this interview, Melanie Hall, President and CEO of Hospice of Huntington/Tri-State LifeCare, explains why patients and their families should take advantage of early palliative care intervention. Some of the many benefits include:
Better pain management and improved quality of life
Palliative care providers have specialized training in anticipating and managing the symptoms of chronic illness. By visiting patients in their homes, they can dedicate more time to understanding the side effects of an illness that patient is experiencing, determine where adjustments may be needed in the current treatment plan and better understand the unique challenges that families are facing while caring for a loved one in the home.
An interdisciplinary approach to care
Patients are often concerned that when the help of a hospice or palliative provider is enlisted, they will no longer be able to continue seeing the primary care or medical specialist that they’ve come to know. This is not the case. Palliative providers work collaboratively with the patient’s existing medical team and caregivers to provide enhanced support in the home so that patients will not have to visit the doctor’s office as frequently.
Curative treatments can continue
Deciding to utilize palliative services does not mean that a patient has to stop receiving curative treatments. For example, many cancer patients who receive palliative care will continue to undergo chemotherapy. The benefit of having a palliative provider on the care team means that they can more effectively manage treatment side effects and maximize the patient’s comfort.
Reduced hospital visits
Studies have shown that patients that begin receiving palliative care closer to the time of illness diagnosis tend to require less emergent trips to the hospital. This means more time at home with loved ones and fewer unexpected healthcare expenses.
Opportunities for advance healthcare planning
When facing a chronic illness, it is important to have your medical wishes spelled out on paper. Members of the palliative care team can walk patients and families through that process of creating advance directives so that when or if a patient is no longer able to make decisions for themselves, the family will be empowered to fulfill their care wishes.
Support for family members and other caregivers
Caring for a loved one with a serious illness is a physically and mentally challenging responsibility for family members. Seeking palliative support earlier can offer relief for those providing care at home and help prepare families for the next chapter.
Contacting a palliative provider for support does not mean that you are giving up. Palliative care can have a tremendously positive impact on a patient’s quality of life.
National Hospice and Palliative Care Month is an excellent time to discuss the benefits of palliative care with your loved one and create an open dialogue about their healthcare preferences. In the end, you will be both be grateful you had the courage to have the hard talk.
For more than 40 years, Hospice of Huntington has provided compassionate physical, emotional and spiritual care for patients and families facing a life-limiting illness. The organization began in 1982 providing high quality hospice care to those in our community. After recognizing a need for other levels of palliative and support services, Hospice of Huntington launched Tri-State LifeCare in 2018.
If you are contemplating palliative or hospice services, Hospice of Huntington and Tri-State LifeCare welcome your call at (304) 399-0225.