Correcting the misperception of palliative care

Correcting the misperception of palliative care

Compared to other medical subspecialties, palliative care is relatively young, but it has grown substantially in the last 20 years. As of 2019, 71.5% of US hospitals with more than 50 beds have a palliative care program, compared to just 7.0% in 2001 (Morrison & Meier, 2019). More recently, palliative care outside of the hospital setting has increased in popularity.

But palliative care is an often-misunderstood term. Even for patients and providers who believe they understand what it is, there is evidence that many misconceptions exist. Recurrent misunderstandings and misrepresentations of palliative care prevent patients from getting the care that they need when they need it. We must, therefore, correct the record for all clinicians treating seriously ill patients.

Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with serious illness. Focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of serious illness, the goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.

Provided by a team of specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support, palliative care is based on the needs of the patient, not on the patient’s prognosis. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage, and it can be provided along with curative treatment.

How do we do this? We do this by providing complex pain and symptom management, and in-depth communication geared to quality of life. We acknowledge that our patients are humans with feelings, emotions, and lives outside of the exam room. We view the whole person, provide the facts – and we listen. We allow space for silence and we validate feelings. We do all of this while our patients receive disease-targeted treatment.

Palliative care provides an extra layer of support while people get the best of what medicine has to offer in terms of cure. It is recommended that palliative care be provided all the way upstream, even upon diagnosis, if the need to mitigate complex symptoms and stress is there. Patients who are mothers, fathers, daughters and sons deserve this.

7 Responses

  1. The story that my comment refers to isn’t the one here. It’s about the ridiculous “hyperalgesia” b.s.
    I don’t know how my comment ended up here!

  2. Palliative care is almost exclusively reserved for cancer patients with an expected life of less than 5 years. At least here in the upper Midwest that is how the clinics work. They are all affiliated with cancer centers and they made it perfectly clear they don’t treat chronic pain patients.

    • Limiting palliative care to end of life cancer pt… is SO 20th CENTURY practicing of medicine… yes, palliative care can be part of hospice – where pts have < 6 month life expectancy. Now in the 21st century, palliative care can be its own entity in providing treatment for high acuity pts (sickest of the sick). A Dx of Palliative care should provide for the reimbursement for a team of health practitioners to have the time to oversee the needs of high acuity pts

  3. After being successfully treated with opioids for many years, I was force tapered off in 2014 because of a bogus urine test. Fast forward five years… after being forced to consult a psychiatrist, I was told that I have opioid induced hyperalgesia. What???
    The ONLY thing that causes hyperalgesia for me is…fentanyl!!! I told my doctor about this, but he said that it’s been “scientifically proven” that opioids cause increased pain! Well, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather after hearing that!!!
    I’m now, finally, taking a “sort of” opioid, at a very minimal dose. My doctor acts like he’s doing me a favor prescribing for me. This situation is NEVER going to get better. I know this now. I don’t know how much longer I can hold on like this. I’m clinging to my last thread of hope, and it’s fraying rapidly.
    I live in New York State, there’s no doctors that accept new patients, especially if one requires opioid medication. I guess that I’m stuck…until I die.

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