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Confused by end-of-life care options? Know what's available

Posted July 20, 2018 2:48 p.m. EDT

Hospice care is for patients who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and whom physicians estimate have about six months or less to live if the illness runs its natural course. (luckybusiness/Big Stock Photo)

This story was written for our sponsor, Transitions LifeCare.

Planning for end-of-life care can be stressful and time consuming. It's also confusing especially at a time when a loved one is living their final months.

While it's not always possible to plan ahead, it can be beneficial to at least have an understanding of the options available for end-of-life care ensuring a loved one receives quality care.

In 2015, the Institute of Medicine published a report titled "Dying in America" that focused on improving quality and honoring individual preferences near the end of life.

Through research, experts found improving the quality and availability of medical and social services for patients and their families could not only enhance the quality of life through end of life, but also contribute to a more sustainable care system. In addition, the IOM committee believes a person-centered, family-oriented approach honoring individual preferences and promoting quality of life through the end of life should be the priority.

"The goal of high-quality, end-of-life care is to focus on comfort, dignity and quality of life during the final months of someone's life, and prevent unnecessary physical and emotional suffering," said Dr. Laura Patel, chief medical officer for Transitions LifeCare. "Having candid conversations with family members and healthcare providers is key to ensuring your loved one gets the care they want at the end of life."

There are many options available for patients with serious illness, including the type of care they receive and the location of their care.

Preferences vary from person to person and there is no right answer or choice. Two options include hospice or palliative care.

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HOSPICE CARE

Hospice care is for patients who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and whom physicians estimate have about six months or less to live if the illness runs its natural course. The entire focus of care centers around providing comfort and quality of life, rather than disease centered treatments.

Patients choosing hospice can receive care any place they call home – a private residence, assisted living facility or nursing home.

Hospice staff are specially trained in end-of-life care and are experts in managing pain and other symptoms. A hospice team can include physicians, nurses, certified nursing assistants, social workers, licensed therapists, home health aides, chaplains, volunteers and grief counselors.

Hospice care offers a holistic approach of caring for the patient and their family physically, emotionally and spiritually.

PALLIATIVE CARE

Palliative care provides an extra layer of support and is focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. It is appropriate at any age in a serious illness and can be provided along with curative treatment.

Most often, palliative care is available as a hospital consult or at a clinic, but some hospice organizations offer services wherever the patient calls home.

The palliative care consultation team is a multidisciplinary team that works with the patient, family and the patient's other doctors to provide medical, social, emotional and practical support. The team is made of palliative care specialist doctors and nurses, and includes others, such as social workers, nutritionists and chaplains.

"People need different types of support at different stages of their illness. If you are unsure which type of care is right for you or your family member, you can ask your primary doctor," Patel said. "In addition, a palliative care consult or a hospice information visit can be helpful for patients and their families to discuss the options and determine what might be the best option for care."

This story was written for our sponsor, Transitions LifeCare.