From relieving pain to reducing symptoms to restoring peace of mind, palliative care helps seriously ill patients live a better life.
Caring for Body, Mind and Spirit
For hospitalized patients with cancer, heart failure or other chronic or progressive conditions, a relatively new medical sub-specialty offers an extra measure of healing, help and hope. Called palliative care, the interdisciplinary, holistic service provides ongoing relief from pain, symptoms and stress for patients of any age, at any stage of a serious illness.
The last point is particularly important.
“Many people think that palliative and hospice care are one and the same,” says Hunter Groninger, MD, director of the section of Palliative Care at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. “But there is a subtle yet crucial difference between the two. Palliative care is supportive, and available to anyone who needs it, for as long as they need it. Hospice care, while a type of palliative care, is restricted to patients at the end of life.”
With its broader mandate, palliative services are often administered along with treatments designed to cure or halt disease progression.
“Our team works hand-in-hand with the patient’s own doctors and specialists,” Dr. Groninger explains. “Palliative care is not an ‘either/or’ situation. Rather, patients and their families get the best of both worlds: curative or disease-modifying care for their illness, supplemented by additional support for their physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs.”
The palliative care team is composed of specially trained physicians, social workers, a nurse practitioner, clinical pharmacist, spiritual counselor and specially trained volunteers. With the goal of reducing suffering and improving quality of life, the team works closely with patients and caregivers to define what’s important to them now and what they want to achieve in the context of their new reality.
“Serious illness, and physical pain in particular, can affect the emotions, relationships, routine activities and professional lives of both patients and family,” Dr. Groninger notes. “Our job is to work with them together to make each day a little bit better.”
For the full podcast interview with Dr. Groninger, click here.