Understanding the benefits of early palliative care requires understanding palliative care in general. Palliative care is not a single service but rather a philosophy of care focused on comfort and symptom management.
There is a myth that palliative care is the same as hospice care. This is far from true. Palliative care encompasses hospice care, but hospice care is only a small slice of the palliative pie. Hospice care starts when all other options have been exhausted, and a cure is no longer possible.
Palliative care, on the other hand, is for people at any stage of serious illness and any age, and can be used alongside curative treatment. Like hospice, it includes symptom management and physical, psychological, and emotional support for the patient and their family. But palliative care also includes much more.
Definition of Palliative Care
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines palliative care as an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and families facing life-threatening illness through the treatment of pain and other physical, psychosocial and spiritual problems.
- Affirms life, and regards dying as a normal process
- Neither hastens nor postpones death
- Provides relief from pain and other distressing symptoms
- Integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of care
- Offers a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death
- Offers a support system to help families cope during the patient’s illness and their own bereavement
- Uses a team approach to address the needs of patients and their families, including bereavement counseling if indicated
- Will enhance quality of life and may also positively influence the course of illness
- Is applicable early in the course of illness, in conjunction with other therapies that are intended to prolong life, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy
Is It Ever Too Early for Palliative Care?
The questions we often hear are, “Is it too early for palliative care?” “Does it mean that I have no hope if I accept palliative care this early?” Or, “Is my medical care going to diminish in some way?” The answers are almost always no. Early palliative care involves combining standard treatment for the serious illness with symptom relief and comfort care.
Gilchrist’s palliative specialists provide comfort care, symptom management and guidance for goals of care, decision-making and advance care planning. It is always a good time to discuss goals because more information helps providers to help patients make their best choices.
Advance care planning means making decisions about the care you would want if you become unable to speak for yourself. The earlier this is done in the illness, the less you have to worry about it—just like having a will drafted before you have any reason to need it.
The Many Benefits of Palliative Care
Several studies have shown significant benefits for patients who have had early palliative care, including not only quality of life, mood and health care satisfaction, but also clinical outcomes and survival in patients with some cancers.
Palliative care also often includes complementary modalities and the use of integrative techniques. These techniques include mind-body medicine such as meditation, mindfulness, manipulative and guided imagery; body-based practices such as acupuncture, Reiki and massage; and the use of natural products.
Early palliative care allows the benefits of physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual comforting as early as possible after the diagnosis of a serious illness. It may also be less costly and more cost-effective than standard care alone while offering significant benefits to caregivers.
To learn more about Palliative Care at Gilchrist, visit gilchristcares.org/palliative.