When Sunita Puri began her medical career, she realized her education had some significant gaps. No one had taught her how to have difficult conversations with patients or how to give a patient a serious diagnosis. Even now, the language of medical professionals often refers to illnesses in terms of “fighting” and “winning the battle” against the disease, leaving little room for conversations about the end of life.
Dr. Puri is currently a palliative care doctor at USC, where she teaches doctors about the language they can use to discuss serious illnesses and end of life concerns. Over the course of her career, she has learned how many misconceptions persist about palliative care, not just from patients, but also from doctors.
According to Dr. Puri, palliative care is a growing, yet still underserved need in the medical community. Both patients and doctors are slowly becoming more informed, learning what it is and why it’s needed, but educating the public on this issue is crucial. In this article, we confront some common misconceptions about palliative care, as well as 5 facts to counter them.
Common Misconceptions About Palliative Care
One possible reason there are so misconceptions about palliative care is the general shortage of palliative care physicians. According to Dr. Puri, most palliative care specialists are in large cities, so patients in rural areas may not have access to this type of treatment.
Consequently, when many patients think of palliative care, they think of end of life care. They may assume palliative care takes the place of other treatments, or by accepting palliative care, they’re “giving up” on their disease. In reality, this isn’t the case, and palliative treatment can exist alongside their existing treatment plan.
Some patients may put off palliative care because they aren’t sure how to ask about it. They may think they’re not in sufficient discomfort, or they’re waiting for their primary doctor to address it. In fact, they can ask about palliative care at any point in treatment.
5 Important Facts About Palliative Care
With so much misinformation surrounding palliative care, what are the most important facts you need to know to be an informed patient or family member?
Palliative care isn’t only for the terminal patient. Anyone with a serious illness can ask their doctor about palliative care treatment upon receiving their diagnosis. The earlier you ask about your treatment options, the better, because you can set your expectations for the course of the illness.
Because palliative care prioritizes the comfort and quality of life for the patient, you can discuss your wishes thoroughly, which treatments you are willing to undergo, and which are too invasive or uncomfortable.
It’s important to remember palliative care focuses on the overall comfort of the patient, and you may experience overall improved health as a result. By spending time on your emotional and spiritual health, you can relieve stress on your body. Consequently, your body can respond better to other treatments.
As mentioned above, palliative care doesn’t replace disease focused treatments. Your palliative care specialists can help you determine in advance what your goals are for disease treatment and where you want to draw the line in terms of comfort and stress levels.
These boundaries can help you make decisions about your treatment plan in the future.
While it’s best to talk to your doctors about palliative care early in treatment, it’s never too late to prioritize your comfort. If your doctor hasn’t discussed palliative care options with you yet, don’t be afraid to bring it up.
Because you don’t need to meet any specific level of illness or number on the pain scale before you engage a palliative care specialist.
Palliative care focuses on the patient’s goals, desires, and comforts. Palliative care is most known for pain management strategies, but it’s not limited to physical treatments. It can also include counseling for you and your family, because serious illnesses can be stressful for everyone involved.
One of the most important things your palliative care specialist can do is listen to you, the patient. They can help you determine what’s most important to you and work with your other physicians to make sure your treatments are working for you.
Now that you’ve learned these 5 important facts about palliative care, you can be a better-informed patient in the future. We hope this article has answered some of your questions about palliative care specialists and what they can do for you.
Reach Out to Kindful Hospice to Learn More
If you are curious about palliative care and would like to learn more about how Kindful Hospice can help, contact us. We have doctors, chaplains, counselors, and volunteers who can talk with you about your palliative care options and help you make a decision that will best fit you and your family.