The Sweet Relief of Palliative Care
Palliative care manages symptoms and stress of serious illness
There was the woman beset by stubborn, difficult nausea, whose grown children were distraught by her discomfort and lack of options. Or the young mother struggling with chemotherapy symptoms while supporting a family on her own. Both patients—and many more like them—received help from Midwest Palliative & Hospice Center and are now back to their former activities.
Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital recently established a dynamic partnership with Midwest CareCenter to offer palliative care to patients in the hospital and after release. Palliative care improves quality of life and longevity for patients facing serious, complex illness.
What is palliative care?
Palliative care is specialized, interdisciplinary care meant to relieve the symptoms of serious illness (pain, nausea, fatigue, depression) and reduce the stress patients experience trying to manage daily needs and navigate care.
Like other medical specialists, palliative care physicians receive additional fellowship training in palliative medicine. They work with nurses, social workers and chaplains to provide expert symptom relief as well as support for emotional, spiritual and practical needs.
The palliative care team works alongside the patient’s physician during treatment in the hospital. If the patient’s issues are not satisfactorily resolved while they are in the hospital, palliative care can be continued in the patient’s home, in a nursing facility or in the clinic. Palliative care is typically paid for by insurance, just like any other medical specialty the primary physician recommends.
Midwest CareCenter is one of the foundational palliative care programs in the country. The partnership with Northwestern Lake Forest provides some of the most comprehensive palliative care options in the Chicagoland area.
Not the Same as Hospice
Palliative care is often confused with hospice, but is quite different. Although diagnosed with a life-altering illness, many patients who receive palliative care are expected to recover or stabilize, and they may have years ahead of them. Palliative care is provided at the same time as the physicians try to cure or stabilize the underlying disease.
In contrast, hospice often requires patients to be at the point where they have decided to stop chemotherapy or other attempts to treat their disease. Additionally, Medicare defines hospice as care only for patients with six months or less to live. Palliative care has none of these restrictions.
“One of the main differences is that we work alongside the patient’s physician while other standard treatment is ongoing,” explains Gordon Wood, MD, a physician board certified in palliative medicine and internal medicine and director of Palliative Medicine and Supportive Care at Northwestern Lake Forest. “Patients, and even some members of the medical team, confuse it with hospice. Unfortunately, that can be a barrier to receiving this highly beneficial, extra layer of care and support.”
But why would a trained physician request help with symptom management?
“Palliative care is like any other medical specialty,” explains Dr. Wood. “Every physician can read an EKG, but a cardiologist might be called in for a more complicated heart problem. Similarly, an oncologist may be well trained in cancer treatment, but might bring in a palliative medicine specialist for expert symptom management and patient communication.”
Several academic medical institutions have conducted major research studies on palliative care. The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a landmark study showing that lung cancer patients who received palliative care early on, at the time of diagnosis, lived longer and had better-controlled symptoms.
“Palliative care makes a tremendous difference because it reduces the stress of a major illness,” says Dr. Wood. “It also helps patients weather their treatment, and, because they understand their illness, they make better decisions about their care.”
A Wedding That Could Not Be Missed
“We have many great stories of patients helped by palliative care," says Dr. Wood—but one stays with him in particular.
"We worked with cancer patient managing the discomfort of a bowel obstruction. She wanted very much to go to her son's wedding, but her nausea and pain were keeping her bedridden and miserable. The physician called in the palliative care team on a Tuesday, and that Friday she was able to go to the wedding. We heard that she danced all night."
"Palliative care is about quality of life," he continues. "We are not just symptom management experts—we also help with the many needs that don't receive as much attention when the care team is focused on treating a major illness.”
Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital Palliative Medicine and Supportive Care
Interested patients should talk to their physician or contact Palliative Medicine directly. A clinician in the department will contact the patient's regular physician to coordinate care. Palliative medicine covers a range of illnesses, including:
- Congestive heart failure
- Kidney failure
- Liver failure
- Lung disease
- Neurological diseases
Contact Palliative Medicine at 847.535.8181 or Midwest CareCenter at 847.467.7423. We are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.