SEATTLE — Living with a serious illness can be difficult for all parties involved. Historically palliative care has been used to relieve pain and suffering resulting from an illness that is no longer being treated. Overlake Medical Center has begun to use it in a new way, using palliative care methods and illness treatment together to achieve better results for patients.
"Long ago when we were trying to talk about illness, our main goal was always focused on treating disease and the thought was, 'Well, if we can't treat disease anymore then we'll focus on maybe shielding the person from the suffering that the illness may cause," said Dr. Karen Knops from Overlake Medical Center.
Now, Overlake Medical Center is using palliative care alongside traditional medical treatment for serious illness.
When people are faced with a serious illness, they have many concerns which range from physical pain to navigating the health care system. "Meeting with a palliative care specialist means we kind of look at the whole picture, disease treatment and impact on that person's life and what they care about."
Consultations with palliative care specialists are unique to each individual going through a serious illness.
"It's very driven by what the patient's individual needs are," said Dr. Knops. "We just try to listen carefully and then come up with a plan based on that."
One example of a plan would be to invite family members into the exam rooms when a doctor is talking with a patient about their care. This alleviates the stress of how to share medical information with a multitude of family members.
Patients with palliative care in addition to their medical care often feel a sense of control over their illness.
"We often can't change the illness," said Dr. Knops. "We can't change a lot of things about it, but we can change the story that the person maybe is telling themselves. We can make sure that they feel really supported by the people they love and feel like they always have a plan no matter what's ahead."
Palliative care could also be as simple as connecting people with resources that are available to them and how they can look to the future to prepare for their illness.
Education about Opioid medications is also important when talking with patients about serious illness. "We don't want them, if there is going to be an Opioid involved in their care, we don't want them to feel afraid of it," said Dr. Knops. However, Opioid medication is not always the answer to alleviating the pain of their illness.
"Maybe it's modifying the home environment. Maybe it's changing the way that they're working. Maybe it's actually using other types of pain medication that might work better, or getting better sleep," said Dr. Knops, when talking about other palliative care solutions.
Palliative care offers a wide range of solutions in helping alleviate the pain of serious illness. When care is implemented alongside traditional treatments of disease, there are more possibilities to help patients and their loved ones.