holding hands

Palliative care works in tandem with other medical specialties to treat patients with serious or life-threatening illnesses in order to help them achieve a higher quality of life. Palliative care encompasses pain relief, as well as helping to alleviate the physical and mental stress that accompany specific types of health issues. Palliative care may not necessarily work to cure a patient of a disease or condition, however, it does help them to better enjoy life and regain a higher quality of life.

Denise Stahl, MSN, ACHPN, and Executive Director of the UPMC Palliative and Supportive Institute, discusses the common myths associated with this important specialty.

Q: What Is Palliative Care?

A: It is medical specialty that really compliments all the other care that patients receive during treatment for a life-threatening illness. Our focus is on quality of life and managing the suffering and symptoms such as pain, anxiety, family coping, or the multitude of decisions that need to be made from a long-term care perspective. Palliative care specialists are able to attend to patient’s symptoms while the other doctors and care teams focus on the treatment of the illness and the diagnosis itself.

Q: What Is the Most Common Misconception About Palliative Care?

A: The most common misconception about palliative care is that it’s for the dying patient and it’s the same as hospice. Palliative care is not that at all. It’s about quality of life. It’s about the suffering that comes with a particular illness or diagnosis and how that’s managed regardless of the goal of therapy. It’s supportive in a way that really meets the patient wherever they are and what their treatment plan is.

Q: Is Palliative Care the Same Thing as Hospice Care?

A: All hospice care is palliative care but not all palliative care is hospice. Hospice is a very specific set of services that is designed to meet the patient who is facing end-of-life. The job of hospice is to look at all the issues and decisions and symptoms that come with end of life process and help the patient cope with those obstacles and keep them as comfortable as possible. Palliative care does the same things but from a much bigger perspective by supporting the patient often from the moment of diagnosis through years of maintenance and sometimes even to a cure for whatever illness they might have.

Q: Who Should Seek Palliative Care?

A: Palliative care is for anyone with a serious illness. The most common thing that comes to mind for people when thinking about palliative care is cancer. While cancer is a serious illness and is certainly appropriate for palliative care, there really is no limit to what illnesses we can treat. It’s quite common for patients with advanced dementia or heart disease to seek our services as well as patients who are on the waiting list for organ transplants. It’s all about the complexities that come with serious illness and managing quality of life along the way.

Q: How Can a Patient Access Palliative Care at UPMC?

A: The UPMC Palliative and Supportive Institute has support teams in the hospitals, nursing homes and clinics as well as home based programs. The easiest thing for a patient to do is ask their doctor about palliative care and if it’s appropriate for them. At that point someone from our team would reach out to them for a consult. Our teams consist of nurses, social workers, physicians, members of the clergy, psychologists and counselors and we even work with pet and art and music therapy. The goal of our staff is really to just look at where a particular patient and family are suffering and determine how we can be most helpful in managing and optimizing quality of life.

For more information call the UPMC Palliative and Supportive Institute at 412-864-2897 or toll free at 1-855-565-7146 or visit us online.