Let’s face it- healthcare can be a complicated and confusing field. Whether you’re newly diagnosed with a chronic illness or caring for a parent or family member living with one, there’s a lot to coordinate and consider. Anna Engle, RN and Palliative Care Coordinator at Pullman Regional Hospital, explains how her team takes some of the guesswork out of navigating the healthcare environment by offering services and support to help people struggling to manage their disease.
What does Palliative Care mean?
Palliative Care is an additional level of support for people with chronic or severe illnesses, including medication management, optimizing symptom control, identifying available and appropriate resources, and scheduling healthcare appointments. Palliative Care interacts with the person’s healthcare team, including family, caregivers, primary care, and specialists. The goal is to assist patients and families navigate the healthcare system and increase quality of life for both the patient and family.
Palliative Care helps support patient care in all areas. “With our electronic medical record, Epic, we can flag patients participating in Palliative Care. If our patient goes to a specialty clinic or the Emergency Department for care, they can see that we’re involved and call us to assist,” says Engle. “This helps us with continuity of care- the patient and care team don’t have to start at square one each time they access services. We know them and can get them the help they need.”
Is Palliative Care the same as Hospice Care?
Nope! All hospice care falls under palliative care, but not all palliative care is hospice care. Hospice care is a model specifically for patients with a prognosis of 6 months or less to live and are no longer seeking curative care, whereas palliative care is appropriate for any age and stage of serious illness. It’s a common misconception that to qualify for palliative care, a patient must be close to death; in actuality, palliative care is better thought of as a guide for navigating chronic illnesses to help patients continue to live the life they want.
Who is a good candidate for Palliative Care?
Anyone with a new or ongoing chronic illness can benefit from Palliative Care. People with early dementia, congestive heart failure, cancers, COPD, diabetes, those who have experienced a stroke, and other chronic illnesses can find resources, guidance, and coordinated healthcare through the Pullman Regional Hospital Palliative Care team.
“Once patients and families choose Palliative Care, they report increased quality of life. What this tells us is the sooner someone chooses Palliative Care, the better the healthcare journey becomes for them,” says Engle.
What happens during a Palliative Care visit?
An initial Palliative Care consultation involves an in-depth interview, often with the patient and their family members, to learn health history, health goals, and what is important to them. “Some patients have a clear goal, like attending their granddaughter’s graduation, while others strive to be able to do an activity, such as returning to their daily walk or game of tennis,” says Engle. “We listen to what they hope to accomplish, as well as what they evaluate their quality of life to be, and from that, we make recommendations on how to proceed with care.”
In addition to the interview, the Palliative Care team learns more about the patient’s current Advanced Directives; if they don’t currently have anything set, they’re connected with Jessica Rivers, Advanced Care Planning Facilitator at Pullman Regional Hospital. “This is a really great pathway we have set up with our Advanced Care Planning team. We want to ensure that patients have on file what they wish to happen, should they ever be in a position where they cannot communicate it themselves,” says Engle.
Initial Palliative Care consultations normally take about an hour. After the consultation, a care plan is developed and guides the ongoing visits. Behind the scenes, the Palliative Care team will also connect the patient with any relevant resources such as outfitting their home with necessary safety equipment, providing their family members with workshops and support groups, and recommending strategies and materials to implement to everyday life.
“My favorite part of this program is getting to know my patients and helping them reach their goals in a time that can be very difficult for them,” reflects Engle.
How do I access Palliative Care?
The Pullman Regional Hospital Palliative Care team can be accessed via a referral from your primary care provider. They see patients weekly in the Specialty Clinic at Pullman Regional Hospital and are also available for home visits on a case-by-case basis. The team consists of Anna Engle, MSN, RN; Sarah Rial, LICSW; Nicole Dwyer, PA; and Brianna Robinson, PharmD.
If you or someone you love could benefit from Palliative Care, ask your primary care provider for a referral today. If you have questions about this program, you can reach the Palliative Care team at (509) 336-7495.