Social workers, hospice personnel and physicians often field this question from caregivers: “What is palliative care?” The question frequently presents itself when discussing treatment options for loved ones with serious or chronic medical conditions, or who are experiencing end-of-life stages. This type of care addresses ways to make a patient more comfortable and improve a patient’s quality of life across settings using a variety of intervention techniques.
The Scope of Palliative Care
While most understand that pain and disease affect the body, few consider their impacts on a person’s spiritual, psychological and social well-being. Therefore, holistic treatment plans go beyond the simple administration of medications to give physical relief and also deal with the mental and relational aspects that pathologies have on individuals and those who care for them. In view of this, the best treatment options emerge from facilitated communication between a variety of participants including patients, family members, medical staff, nutritionists, counselors,rehabilitation specialists, hospice personnel, social workers, community advocates or spiritual advisers.
The Consultative Process for Managing Disease
When faced with chronic or serious medical conditions, completion of normal, daily activities can be difficult and exhausting for patients, as well as for those who care for them. As a result, communication becomes a critical tool to identify areas where illness impacts everyday functions and to learn coping skills for dealing with the stresses that prolonged illness or disabilities can place on feelings and interactions. Social workers, professional counselors and clergy play an especially important part in this process, linking together information and resources with care providers and families to sustain them through difficult circumstances. These professionals act as liaisons, providing the support mechanism required for clients and families to make serious life decisions while affirming their choices and helping them to cope with recovery, grief or loss.
Expectations from Service Providers
Maintaining a person’s quality of life and making it comfortable can take many forms. Appropriate treatment plans focus on individual needs, which vary from client to client. Gathering information through patient and family interviews usually starts the process. From there, service providers can determine the treatment options that may work best for all involved. Services can provide any or all of the following:
- Counseling about non-medical interventions to manage symptoms of pain and disease
- Mediation to resolve conflicts within the family about treatments or expected outcomes
- Medical or legal advocacy on behalf of the patient and family
- Resource links to agencies for housing, financial or insurance assistance
- Advice about short-term treatment programs or advanced care options such as hospice
- Education concerning recovery, rehabilitation or end-of-life care practices
- Information about support groups moderated by professional personnel
- Visits or consultations in home, hospital, hospice or residential settings
Serious or chronic illnesses have significant impacts on the quality of a person’s daily life. Regaining control of normal routines and living as comfortably as possible, therefore, become primary goals for those affected and their families. With this outcome in mind, palliative care provides the framework for making this happen through education about treatment choices and provision of support services.