Palliative care is misunderstood and underutilized

By: Ellyn M. Lee, M.D.

If I were to ask 50 people what palliative care means, I would likely get 50 different answers and most would say the term is interchangeable with hospice care. Because of this misconception in both the medical community and the general public, there is a hesitation to seek palliative care expertise earlier in a patient’s journey because of the false perception this service is only for those reaching end-of-life care. This past week an article was written in the New York Times about this very issue and how patients and their families are missing an opportunity to better understand options and make choices with the help of a palliative care team.

Those of us specializing in palliative care strive to manage symptoms and support patients and their loved ones on how to live with and manage chronic disease. We integrate the psychological, social and spiritual aspects of care along with providing relief from pain and other distressing symptoms. The focus of care is tailored to support each unique individual with the complex questions and scenarios arising from a chronic condition and are provided in an outpatient setting.

Is palliative care right for you, someone you love or a patient you are treating? Here are some questions to think about:

  • Is the pain from the condition being treated to his or her satisfaction?
  • Does nausea and fatigue prevent him or her from participating in everyday activities?
  • Is depression or anxiety preventing him or her from experiencing the simple joys of life?
  • Is the prognosis of the disease challenging to understand?
  • Is help needed to navigate difficult medical decisions?

If the answer to any or many of the above questions is yes, then seeking a consultation with a palliative care expert may help navigate these waters. It does not mean giving up; rather, it’s about seeking assistance to improve the quality of life we all seek. Sometimes a new set of ears to listen and the expertise to understand can provide the comfort needed during a challenging time.

For more information about the Palliative Care and Symptom Management Clinic at Swedish, contact us at 206-386-2126.

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