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Myths About Palliative Care

Editor's note: The Mayo Clinic defines  palliative care as a program that "offers pain and symptom management and emotional and spiritual support" in cases of chronic, debilitating or life-threatening illnesses. But there are many myths, most of them frightening, that surround this concept. Here, experts from Mayo separate the myths from the facts about a method of treatment that can ease illness not only for patients, but their families.

A specialized, multidisciplinary team approach to caring for seriously ill people and their families, is often errantly reduced to end-of-life care. This misconception has led to palliative care involvement being introduced late in an illness, often depriving patients and their families of comprehensive symptom control, support and assistance with complex decision-making throughout the course of their illness when it could provide the most benefit.

Palliative care is ideally integrated earlier in the course of an illness as part of a comprehensive care plan. There is even convincing evidence that integrating palliative care earlier in the disease course improves quality of life, helps to minimize unwanted and unhelpful interventions, and may even help patients live a little bit longer. Palliative care is available to help clinicians care for patients and their families at any age and any stage of a serious illness. Studies show that the involvement of palliative care leads to more effective, efficient and less costly care, but not less care.

In a recent article published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Mayo Clinic physicians Jacob Strand, M.D., Elise Carey, M.D., along with Mihir Kamdar, M.D., from Massachusetts General Hospital, shared 10 Things Palliative Care Clinicians Wished Everyone Knew About Palliative Care. These include:

Palliative care is appropriate at any stage of serious illness. In fact, evidence supports that the earlier palliative care is incorporated into the care plan, the higher the quality of life for the patient may be.

Palliative care can help address the emotional impact of serious illness on patients and their families. Palliative care focuses on a holistic approach to care, including a focus on family and caregiver support.

Palliative care teams assist in complex communication interactions surrounding a serious illness. Effective communication among patients, families and providers allows for higher patient satisfaction, stronger adherence to medical therapy and, ultimately, better health outcomes.

Palliative care enhances health care value. Research supports that palliative care involvement helps lower health care costs and reduce hospital readmissions, and pharmacy and laboratory costs, while improving the quality of life and patient and family satisfaction.

"Palliative care is a subspecialty of medicine in which we care for patients with complex and severe illness," says Carey. "It is really about taking care of patients and their families throughout the course of their illness, at any stage of the illness, even while they are getting life-prolonging or curative care."

Palliative care specialists focus on treating more than the disease; they focus on the whole person and his or her lived experience. "Persons receiving specialist palliative care are able to live better and longer and achieve their goals while living with their serious illness," says Cory Ingram, M.D., the medical director of Palliative Medicine for Mayo Clinic Health System. "This is done by an expert team approach to symptom assessment and management, supportive counseling, care planning, care coordination and crisis prevention. Not only do the patients live better, their family does too."

Reprinted with permission from www.mayoclinic.com. For more information, visit www.mayoclinic.com.