What Happens at a Palliative Care Consult?
The Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC) estimates that ninety million Americans are living with serious illnesses such as cancer, heart failure, or kidney disease – and that six million of them could benefit from palliative care. If you or a loved one are wondering if palliative care is right for you, here is an idea of what you can expect from a palliative care consult.
What is palliative care?
The CAPC defines palliative care as “specialized medical care for people living with serious illness [that] focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness.” Some of the more common conditions for which people seek palliative care are cancer, advanced heart or respiratory disease, kidney failure, Alzheimer’s, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – to name a few.
Palliative care is appropriate for people of any age, at any stage of an illness. And, unlike hospice, palliative care is often delivered along with continued curative and life-prolonging treatment.
Meet The Palliative Care Team
Palliative care is provided by interdisciplinary teams of specialists, including doctors, nurses, social workers and others who coordinate closely with a patient’s medical team to ensure all needs are met.
At Crossroads, palliative care teams include a nurse practitioner, physician, and social worker. Nurse practitioners help assess and treat patients by managing medication needs and discussing the goals of care. Social workers provide emotional support and help patients and families access helpful resources such as durable medical equipment and medical insurance. Physicians coordinate care and treatment decisions with a patient’s primary care physician and specialists.
Working together, the palliative care team provides an extra level of support, focusing on patient comfort and quality of life while the medical team focuses on medical care.
What to Expect
Open communication. The primary purpose of every visit from the palliative care team is to talk about goals of care, educate patients about their disease diagnosis, and address any questions or concerns they may have. By helping patients understand their condition and course of treatment, the palliative team can assist them in making important medical decisions.
During an initial consult, a provider (either a nurse practitioner or a physician) and a social worker meet with the patient and family to discuss what’s most important to the patient – physically, emotionally, spiritually – so that the team can help them live their best life. Family and caregivers should be prepared to share primary doctors’ names and phone numbers, medication lists and advanced medical directives if the patient has one.
“Palliative care is patient- and family-centered care to optimize quality of life by addressing symptoms related to illnesses, including medical, spiritual, psychological or social issues related to having a chronic or terminal condition,” Crossroads Medical Director Susan Coss, MD, HMDC, CMD. “The initial evaluation includes discussions about palliative care, goals of care, prognosis, as well as any medical and social needs which can be addressed over the next series of visits.”
Questions might range from “How are you feeling today?” to “How did you sleep last night?” to “What is your greatest fear having this illness” to “Can I help you sort through insurance issues?” to “What brings you joy?”
First visits can take some time, as the palliative care team gets to know the patient and family. There are no time restrictions – all palliative care visits last as long as needed to address patients’ comfort, questions and concerns.
Teams that meet you where you are. Palliative care is delivered in many settings: a patient’s home, assisted living or long-term care facility, or a hospital. With Crossroads, the palliative care team and the patient discuss the overall plan of care and schedule visits to ensure the patient's needs are met. The palliative care nurse will assess patient needs by asking questions about, for example, any pain one might have, fatigue, and trouble breathing or sleeping. The social worker might ask a patient living at home if he or she wants help arranging for in-home medical equipment, for example, or someone to help with grocery shopping.
Full coordination with the medical team to alleviate pain and other symptoms. Working closely with the medical team, the palliative care team will prescribe treatments, medications and therapeutic activities to manage pain, symptoms and side effects. They allow the healthcare providers to focus on treatment while the palliative team ensures patient comfort.
“Navigating through healthcare and the many resources available to help emotionally, financially and physically, can be overwhelming,” says Marie Sutton, LSW, CHP-SW, Palliative Care Social Worker at Crossroads. “People get lost in the process of an illness. The palliative team is a conduit between a patient’s primary care physician and specialists, helping them manage symptoms and enlisting community resources to provide support. The visits create a bond of trust between the palliative team and patients, knowing that the social worker and nurse practitioner will advocate for their choices.”
Living Your Best Life
Palliative care teams provide medical and emotional support and guidance to patients and their families every step of the way. Comfort is their concern, and they partner with their patients to make life better.
Says Dr. Bryan Hughes, Medical Director of Palliative Care at Crossroads, “While some people might associate the term ‘palliative care’ with dying, we actually focus on helping patients to truly live well during the precious time they have left.”
To learn more about Crossroads and if palliative care can help, visit our website of call us at 1-888-564-3405.
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