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Health Matters: Compassionate Care to Help Improve Quality of Life

By Ramy Sedhom, MD

When a patient is diagnosed with a serious illness or advanced disease, improving their quality of life is an important part of their care.

Palliative care and hospice care are two types of care that support patients and their caregivers struggling with the difficulties of disease or disease-directed treatments.

However, while both ensure that patients and their families receive care that is aligned with their personal goals, there are subtle differences between the two.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a serious illness, there are a few important things to know about palliative and hospice care.

What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is an approach that addresses the patient’s needs as a whole, not just those related to their disease.

It can help prevent or treat the symptoms and side effects of a disease and its treatment as well as any psychological, social, or spiritual challenges the patient may experience.

Palliative care can include:

• Symptom management through pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic interventions.
• Emotional and spiritual support services.
• Integrative therapies, such as meditations, acupuncture, and massage.
• Help with advance care planning, which guides the patient in understanding and sharing their personal values and preferences regarding medical care.
• Legacy building or life review, such as creating pieces that celebrate your life by telling your story.
• Bereavement care.
• Support for the patient’s caregivers.
• Referrals to other support services.

Palliative care is provided by palliative care specialists — healthcare practitioners who have received special training and certification in palliative care.

Palliative care physicians work closely with the patient and their other physicians to develop an individualized plan to manage symptoms.

What is Hospice Care?

Hospice care includes palliative care and also offers more intensive interdisciplinary services for patients with a prognosis of six months or less to live.

Hospice care is reserved for patients who either no longer qualify for curative, disease-specific treatments or those who wish to forego those treatments when the potential impacts outweigh the potential benefits.

Most medical societies agree that hospice care is the best type of care for patients who no longer benefit from disease-specific treatments.

People often mistakenly think of hospice as service to turn to when they have given up hope or when they are near the very end of life. In fact, hospice is a benefit that emphasizes control, with the goal of optimizing quality of life.

Patients who enroll in hospice often comment that they wish they were aware of the benefit or service sooner.

How are Palliative and Hospice Care Similar?

Though they are different types of care, both palliative and hospice care are patient- and family-oriented types of specialized, compassionate medical care focused on improving a patient’s quality of life.

Both offer an extra layer of support for patients and caregivers, and both are focused on the patient’s goals for their care.

Importantly, both palliative care and hospice care have been shown to improve patient and caregiver satisfaction, and at times, survival.

In addition, both types of care are covered by Medicare and Medicaid, and almost all private insurance. Medication, supplies, and medical equipment are also typically covered.

Penn Medicine Hospice Princeton Health

The multidisciplinary team at Penn Medicine Hospice Princeton Health includes physicians, nurses, certified home health aides, social workers, chaplains, and volunteers who are dedicated to providing compassionate care.

They work along with the patient and his or her loved ones to create a plan of care that is specific to the needs of both patient and family. Loved ones who want to be actively involved in administering care are offered support and training.

On-call nursing is also available 24/7 and regular home visits are provided, in addition to other support services.

Care is provided in the patient’s home, an assisted living facility, nursing home, in the inpatient hospice setting at Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center, or in another acute care hospital.

The hospice program at Princeton Health also offers a bereavement team to support the family after their loved one has passed.

Live as Well as Possible

At Penn Medicine Princeton Health, expert palliative care and hospice teams work closely with patients and their loved ones to make sure they get the care and support they need to manage their illness and live as well as possible.

For more information about palliative care services at Penn Medicine Princeton Health, call 609-853-6793.

For more information about Penn Medicine Hospice Princeton Health, call 609-497-4900.

Ramy Sedhom, MD, is a board-certified oncologist and palliative care physician on the Medical Staff of Penn Medicine Princeton Health.

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