Palliative care – for many people, the words are identified with hospice or end-of-life care.

Julie West, ANP is trying to change that. As a palliative care nurse practitioner at Mercy Hospital, Julie spends her days meeting with patients and their families as they navigate life-threatening illnesses. She loves what she does, choosing the specialty because it allows her to spend quality time with patients and make a real difference in their lives.

Because palliative care is a relatively new field (it was first recognized as a medical specialty in the 1990s) there are still many people who don’t understand the many ways palliative care can improve patient outcomes.

Research has shown that palliative care has the following benefits:

  • Longevity – Early initiation and integration of palliative care has been shown to improve survival and quality of life for cancer patients.
  • Quality of Life – Reducing pain and other negative side effects greatly improves the patient’s overall experience.
  • Better Patient Satisfaction – A realistic understanding of their medical diagnosis allows patients to make the best decisions about their care and treatment.

For patients with a cancer diagnosis, palliative care can be provided alongside curative treatments.

 

Reducing Suffering

Palliative care aims to improve quality of life for people with life-limiting illnesses. It incorporates symptom management to reduce immediate suffering and advanced care planning to avoid future suffering.

Julie points out that there are many dimensions to suffering. These include physical aspects such as pain; existential/spiritual factors like the struggle to find meaning; psychological stressors like anxiety or depression; and social factors such as a loss of one’s role at home or work.

Since the goal is to reduce suffering in its many forms, palliative care practitioners use deep listening and other communications skills to engage in difficult conversations with patients and their families. Julie begins by making sure her patient understands their medical condition and prognosis. She then helps them clarify their goals and advocates for their wishes moving forward. Julie communicates with her patients medical care team

Julie believes in giving patients hope and optimism based in the reality of their situation. “It’s not about false hope,” she says. “Even when a patient’s cancer is incurable, there can be other things to look forward to and treasure. There’s always hope.”

 

Learn More About Palliative Care

The National Cancer Institute website has a wealth of information about palliative care and cancer.

This podcast features an interview with Dr. Diane Meier, a palliative care specialist and the Director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.