Many of us have someone in our lives – a spouse, parent, grandparent or another loved one – who has been diagnosed with a serious illness or chronic disease. Or, maybe you have confronted a complex illness. Either way, the Palliative Medicine team at Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC) PhysicianCare in Prescott Valley is a valuable healthcare partner for people facing life-limiting illnesses.
During November, National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, YRMC’s Palliative Medicine team is helping build awareness of Palliative Medicine and its role in patient care. They’re also educating the public about some of the differences between palliative medicine and hospice care, both of which provide vital services to patients and their families.
Let’s begin with some facts you may not know about palliative care.
- Palliative medicine can become involved in a patient’s care immediately after a diagnosis.
Palliative medicine can accompany a patient from the diagnosis of a serious illness – cancer, heart failure or kidney disease, for example – to as long as support is needed. Although it’s best to start soon after diagnosis, palliative medicine services can be of value at any time during a patient’s treatment.
- Palliative medicine is not end-of-life care.
“This highlights an important difference between palliative medicine and hospice care,” said Donna Frappier, Practice Manager, YRMC PhysicianCare, Palliative Medicine. “Palliative medicine works with patients undergoing treatment with the goal of curing them or extending life.”
Hospice care begins when patients either can no longer benefit from aggressive treatments or when patients choose to forego aggressive measures in the interest of comfort. Hospice is traditionally an option for people who have a life expectancy of less than six months.
- Palliative Medicine is delivered by a team of healthcare professionals who have special training in the management of symptoms associated with serious illnesses.
Both hospice and palliative medicine take a team approach to the care they provide. YRMC’s Palliative Medicine team includes physicians, physician assistants, a nurse practitioner, a registered nurse and social worker. All of these caregivers are experts at managing the complexities of living with a serious illness.
“Our team takes a holistic approach to care,” Frappier explained. “We work with people who are facing life-limiting illnesses to address their physical, mental, social and spiritual needs.”
When needed, YRMC’s Palliative Medicine team taps YRMC’s network of healthcare experts to assist patients with their needs, including:
- Dietitians for nutritional advice and information.
- Pharmacists to review prescriptions and simplify often complex medication routines.
- Occupational therapists and physical therapists for help in increasing strength and mobility, and to assist patients maintain abilities for “activities of daily living” to prescribe independence as long as possible.
YRMC’s Palliative Medicine team also identifies community resources for patients, such as transportation to physician appointments, paid in-home caregivers, volunteer services, chaplains, and meal delivery services.
- Palliative Medicine wraps the patient and family in an extra layer of care and comfort.
As the patient’s primary care and specialty physicians pursue treatments aimed at a cure or extension of life, YRMC’s Palliative Medicine team concentrates on the patient’s comfort. That may include:
- Easing physical pain or discomfort.
- Addressing anxiety and other emotional issues.
- Alleviating symptoms, like breathing issues, nausea, constipation, agitation, and insomnia.
Hospice also is dedicated to patient comfort, but they support the patient and family as they prepare for the end-of-life.
- Palliative Medicine supports the patient’s future plans.
YRMC’s Palliative Medicine team works with patients and their families to develop care plans that are tailored to their priorities and goals. These plans may include information on advance directives – living wills, durable power of attorney, healthcare proxy, for example – and education about managing the side effects of treatment.
“We’re very fortunate to have a social worker as part of our Palliative Medicine team,” Frappier said. “Our social worker visits patients in their homes so she understands their environment, family dynamics, communication styles and more. That information creates a complete picture that allows the team to identify resources that support the patient’s goals.”
For Frappier and YRMC’s Palliative Medicine team, their work with people who have life-limiting illnesses can be summarized in three words: educate, support and advocate.
“Palliative care is the purest form of humanity that we can possibly experience,” she said. “It’s about providing the best for the people you love. That focus on patient comfort and dignity is the ribbon that ties palliative care and hospice care.”
For more information about YRMC’s Palliative Medicine Services, visit YRMC.org or call (928) 775-5567.