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Extending Quality of Life with Palliative Care

By Hospice of Marion County

All of us deserve to live as comfortably as possible; however, when an accident, sudden illness or chronic condition takes hold of our lives, comfort may seem impossible or out of reach. In the past decade, hope for relief from acute pain and distressing symptoms has become a reality and within reach, thanks to a growing trend in modern medicine: palliative care.

What is Palliative Care?
The word “palliative” is defined as comforting, soothing, calming and reassuring. It should not be confused with quick fixes offered in so-called “pain clinic” settings. Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with serious conditions. Its focus is to provide relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress that entails—whatever the cause or diagnosis. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.

Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses and other specialists, who work together with a patient’s primary doctor and/or specialist to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and can be offered along with curative treatment.

Examples of those who have benefited from palliative care include a 50-year-old with pancreatitis and a 40-year-old diabetic with neuropathy (nerve pain). Both conditions are chronic but not life-threatening. A patient with pancreatitis was in pain and had trouble eating; now he enjoys food and life again!

How is palliative care different?
Because patients are carefully regulated by their physicians with consultations from experts at Marion County’s Center for Comprehensive Palliative Care, people can rest assured that their pain and symptoms can be managed (most within 24-48 hours) and their conditions monitored on an ongoing basis. Many go on to fully regain their lives. Those with advancing illness can deal with their situation without the added burden of debilitating pain or life-altering symptoms that prevent them from enjoying daily life.

When did palliative care start at Hospice of Marion County?
About ten years ago, the Senior Medical Director for Hospice of Marion County attended a medical conference and learned that 80% of hospital patients were suffering. The study concluded those patients could benefit from palliative treatment. This fact applied not only to terminal patients, but to those who were not facing death. Hospice of Marion County determined to change that statistic, at least in Marion County. The organization began providing consults for hospital patients and single-handedly spearheaded the program, seeing 70 patients in two months. The positive results were astounding.

Thus, the Center for Comprehensive Palliative Care (CCPC) was launched. As a consulting service to physicians, CCPC was awarded national recognition as a model program in its first year. Its success continues to grow, but the patients are the real beneficiaries.

How does someone get palliative care?
Well-informed consumers should know the facts. They can request palliative treatment if the outcome from surgery, accident or disease has left them in physical or mental distress. Palliative care improves healthcare quality in three significant ways. It:
1. effectively relieves physical symptoms and emotional suffering,
2. strengthens patient-family-physician communication and decision-making, and
3. ensures well-coordinated care across healthcare settings.

As a holistic approach to care, palliative medicine is about a person’s whole being, including family and loved ones. It is covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurances. A consult is available through one’s own physician or by calling (352) 291-5881 for information about receiving services.

Palliative Care’s Growth
The steady growth is primarily in response to the increasing number of people with serious and chronic illness. People are living longer, but not necessarily better. Their needs are many, placing overwhelming caregiving demands on families. We recognize their needs at CCPC and are addressing these challenges through a strong partnership between patient, family and our supportive palliative care team.

Today, the Hospice of Marion County CCPC team has two medical directors and five advanced practitioner registered nurses, Billie Woodham serves as the program’s director. Together they conduct more than 1,000 consults a year, in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and even private homes. We are also gratified to have recently earned the Joint Commission’s seal of approval, the national standard in quality healthcare. Palliative medicine is real medicine. And it can help make life worth living.

Learn how the Center for Comprehensive Palliative Care can help: (352) 291-5881 or visit www.marionpalliativecare.com.

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