Improving Quality of Life for Chronically Ill Patients

July 15, 2016
Palliative care at GW Hospital

Just about anyone with a serious illness can benefit from palliative care. It can give patients and their families a more supportive experience during the patient’s hospitalization. Danielle J. Doberman, MD, MPH, Director of the Palliative Medicine Program at The George Washington University Hospital, explains the many different areas palliative care encompasses.

What is palliative care?

This multidisciplinary medical specialty does not replace other healthcare; it adds a layer of physical, emotional, spiritual and social support for patients and their families. The palliative care team comprises physicians, social workers, a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant and chaplains, who work with the patient’s other medical providers. Team members help relieve pain and other symptoms, and assist the patient and family with decision-making.

Which patients need palliative care and how is it done?

Patients with serious illnesses such as cancer, congestive heart failure, Alzheimer’s disease or stroke often require palliative care. Care is administered at the hospital bedside with the patient or the patient’s family. Some circumstances call for a family conference, where a complex healthcare plan is openly discussed with patient, family and all treating medical teams.

How are palliative and hospice care different?

Palliative physicians and social workers focus on the patient’s healthcare goals and merging their wishes with the care plan. Patients can have palliative care while they are still having disease-modifying treatment. Hospice care is focused on keeping a patient comfortable when he or she is no longer undergoing curative treatments.

What other kinds of assistance does palliative care offer?

Counseling about healthcare options is common. Should providers use a feeding tube? How do you write a living will? Should a cancer patient undergo chemotherapy? Is it time for hospice? Palliative caregivers may help a family who has a loved one anywhere in the hospital. They offer the important qualities of an understanding presence, clear communication and unlimited compassion.

For more information, contact the GW Hospital Palliative Medicine Department at 202-715-4337.