Studies show that patients who receive palliative care have higher quality of life, lower rates of depression, and even survive for weeks or months longer than those who do not. And the earlier they receive palliative care, the better.
Because palliative care is all about the big picture. While other doctors and surgeons you see focus on their area of expertise, palliative care providers focus on your goals and your values.
This whole-health approach is not only great for patients, but for caregivers as well, many of whom are women. The symptom management, resources, and support that palliative care providers offer can lighten a caregiver's load.
We talked to Jeff Myers, PA-C, MMSc, MIH, to learn more about palliative care's benefits. He is the interim section head at the Division of Hematology/Oncology, OHSU KCI, and instructor in OHSU's Palliative Care Service.
What is palliative care and why is it important?
Myers: Patients with serious or life-threatening illness have symptoms and side effects that come along with their sickness and treatments. Their primary provider may need some help managing those symptoms, and palliative care providers do that, by providing care or connecting patients to other resources.
There are also difficult discussions and decisions to make about treatment options. Palliative care providers help with those conversations. We try to be a bridge between you and your providers –to make sense of the medical terms and look at your health holistically.
How is it different from hospice care?
Myers: We provide palliative care to any patients with serious illness, life-threatening illness, or at the end of life. But it's not limited to people just at the end of life –that's what hospice care is.
How does palliative care support patients and their families?
Myers: We try to create space and time to reflect, and think about what is really important to you. Creating that space is crucial, because so many people haven't thought about it in advance. As a culture, we don't like to talk about death. We don't want to dwell on it. We don't want to think about the what-ifs.
What are the benefits of thinking about the what-ifs?
Myers: Once families start thinking and talking, we can learn a lot. At first, many patients just say "I'm treating this because I don't want to die." But when you push a little more, they say "I just want to get off the couch and play with my grandkids," or "My daughter is getting married, and I just want to make it to her wedding."
They're trying to manage something that's so uncertain. Our role is giving them space to talk about how difficult that feels, but also space to say what's important to them. Then we can show them they can have some control and there are some options.
Ready to start thinking and talking about it?
Complete an Advanced Directive. (An Advanced Directive is a legal document that communicates your health care wishes when you can't express them yourself.)
You can use OHSU's conversation starter kit to help get the ball rolling.
No matter your age or health status, we hope you'll use the starter kit. An unexpected illness or injury can happen to anyone at any time. It's never too soon to make a care plan with your loved ones.