Karen Legere, MSN, RN, OCN, CHP, clinical nurse, Palliative Care
Michael*, a young patient diagnosed with cancer, was admitted to the pain and palliative care unit on Tower 5B for pain control following chemotherapy. Fear and confusion overcame Michael and his mother when they were told the palliative care team would be caring for him.
Their nurse understood their reaction and explained that palliative care is a medical specialty focusing on symptom management that enhances care for patients who are receiving curative treatments. This reaction to hearing the words “palliative care” in an oncology setting is not uncommon, as palliative care is often confused with end-of-life care.
Palliative care is a broad term used to describe care focused on providing relief from the symptoms, pain and stress of a serious illness – whatever the diagnosis. Its goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. Palliative care is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and can be provided together with curative treatment1. In end-of-life care, which falls under the umbrella of palliative care, the goals of care shift to maximizing comfort, while addressing psychological and spiritual needs.
Whether we are providing palliative care to a patient with an excellent prognosis or a dying patient, education and support are essential. Sitting at the bedside and listening to a patient’s understanding of their illness, fears and goals are all keys to knowing the patient and maintaining their dignity during all phases of illness.
The palliative care service at BWH offers a primary inpatient service for oncology patients and a consult service to inpatients on other services. The team is comprised of physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers, pharmacists and chaplains. A holistic approach is used to maximize comfort, preserve dignity and facilitate an open dialogue between patients, families and caregivers.
*patient’s name has been changed
1. Center to Advance Palliative care (2012). What is palliative care? Retrieved from getpalliativecare.org