Palliative care is relatively new in health care. Many people are unfamiliar with palliative care, often mistaking it for end-of-life or hospice care.
However, palliative care can be beneficial for individuals with a serious illness — no matter how long they are expected to live, according to Dr. David Hall, a double board-certified internal medicine and pediatrics doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group.
“Palliative care can help you during any stage of an ongoing illness or condition, such as congestive heart failure, kidney disease, multiple sclerosis or cancer,” says Dr. Hall. “Even during early stages of a serious illness, you can request palliative care — you don’t have to wait for your doctor to talk about it.”
When you get palliative care, a trained team helps you and your loved ones live with a serious illness. You can get physical, emotional and spiritual support, as well as help to relieve pain and symptoms. The palliative care team can also help you develop a treatment plan and make decisions about your care.
Dr. Hall emphasizes that palliative care is not a replacement for other treatments, but rather it provides you with additional support and resources to manage your illness. “It can improve your quality of life and may help you live longer,” he says.
In a study of people with advanced cancer, those who received palliative care early — along with standard cancer treatments — lived longer than those receiving only standard treatments. These same patients receiving early palliative care also reported better control of pain and other symptoms compared to people who didn’t get palliative care.
Studies suggest there are similar benefits for people with other serious illnesses, such as congestive heart failure and multiple sclerosis.
Talking about palliative care with your doctor
To receive the best medical care during a serious illness, Dr. Hall says you should start palliative care as early as possible for best results. “Don’t wait for your doctor to talk about palliative care; you or a family member can start the conversation about whether it is right for you.”
As a first step, Dr. Hall recommends choosing a doctor to coordinate your care. “You can designate your primary care doctor or a specialist to oversee and guide you through your treatment plan,” he says. “Your coordinating doctor works closely with you in partnership with your palliative care team and other specialists.”
At Sharp Rees-Stealy, we want to empower you to make well-informed choices about your treatment options. That’s why we’ve made it our priority to support our doctors in helping you make smart and effective decisions by participating in Choosing Wisely®.
Choosing Wisely, an initiative of the ABIM Foundation, educates patients and doctors on selecting the most effective treatment available and avoiding unproductive, costly procedures. Sharp Rees-Stealy is the only medical group in Southern California to participate in this national campaign.