Palliative care is a specialized type of medicine that supports individuals with serious illness. Its focus is relieving some of the burdens that patients and families face when navigating a serious illness.
Cancer affects over one million people each year. That’s one million patients and their families trying to balance the doctor’s appointments, treatment, paperwork, finances, transportation, and emotional burdens that come with a cancer diagnosis.
What is palliative care?
At its core, palliative care is centered around patient values and quality of life. In traditional health care, efficiency and outcomes can be overemphasized while presence and connection are sometimes underemphasized. Palliative care is founded on dedicated time and compassionate relationships. “Palliative care is different than what usually happens in doctors’ offices and hospitals. It takes more time, longer conversations, and involves more people,” says Dr. Bennett Clark, Chief Medical Officer at Livio Health. Care teams walk alongside patients and their families throughout their entire experience with serious illness.
“Palliative care is not just about treating your physical burdens, it’s about viewing the patient as a whole person with unique values, goals, and preferences,” states Dr. Emily Schafauser, Palliative Care Physician at Minnesota Oncology. For cancer patients and their families, this kind of approach can be especially impactful. Studies have shown that patients who interact with palliative care tend to have lower symptom burden, spend less time in the emergency room and in hospital stays, and their families experience less distress. Palliative care can greatly improve the care experience for everyone involved—from patients to caregivers to primary care providers.
What are the benefits of palliative care for cancer patients?
Palliative care is built on trusting relationships between patient and clinician. There are fewer time constraints and hurried appointments. Care teams can focus on getting to know patients, understanding their needs, and personalizing each visit to those unique goals.
Aligning care to values
For people facing tough decisions, need help understanding their options, or want advice on the best path to take, palliative care can help. Care teams get to know patients and help them identify what’s most important. Then, they provide personalized resources and guidance on the best next step for each patient and their family.
Palliative care empowers patients to focus on moments that bring you joy, even while dealing with a serious illness. Care teams can provide support learning about a patient’s diagnosis, coming up with a plan, and understanding how treatment can align to the patient’s personal values. One of palliative’s main goals is to help patients navigate the effects of their diagnosis—whether that’s addressing mobility issues, coordinating physical therapy, or managing symptoms from chemotherapy. “Our care teams want to help patients and families cope with the stressors in their life,” states Dr. Clark.” They connect patients to the supports and services that can help relieve any burdens present.”
Addressing Broader Needs
Palliative care acknowledges that serious illness can impact much more than someone’s physical health. “We know that cancer can affect people’s relationships, their emotional or spiritual health, their financial situation and ability to work, and many other areas of their lives,” says Dr. Schafhauser. “We ask people about the many ways that their cancer affects their lives and connect them with the resources they need to be comfortable in those areas.” This could involve referrals to home health programs, setting up a meal delivery service, or connecting someone with counseling services to address the emotional impact of cancer treatments.
Advance Care Planning
Having conversations ahead of time, before a health crisis occurs, is an important step of preparation for patients and families. Advance care planning involves learning about the different options available, thinking about what kinds of treatment you would or would not want to receive, and designating a health care agent to make decisions on your behalf. Palliative care teams can guide patients and their families through these complex conversations. Clinicians can be a source of knowledge, trusted advocate, and trained facilitator in advance care planning discussions. They can help patients gain the confidence they need to take control of their health care.
Livio Health and Minnesota Oncology
Minnesota Oncology trusts Livio to deliver the high-quality, person-centered care their patients deserve. Livio meets patients in their homes to provide a personal and convenient experience. Livio care teams can help cancer patients manage the pain and symptoms, address side effects from treatment, support family and caregivers, and connect patients to the right resources—all ensuring patients remain as comfortable as possible. Palliative care allows patients to feel heard and understood as a person, so they can focus on more good days.