Palliative Care. You’ve likely heard the term, but do you know what it entails? Many people confuse palliative care with hospice care. The two are related but are distinct services. Both help patients with serious illness. They also offer comfort care to improve patients’ quality of life.
How they differ: Hospice care focuses on ensuring comfort to patients who are approaching the end of their life and usually have a prognosis of six months or less to live. But palliative care provides supportive medical care to patients with serious, chronic diseases while still allowing them to pursue aggressive treatment to cure those diseases.
“One major misunderstanding is that palliative care is just a bridge to hospice. It’s really more of a comprehensive approach to care for patients who have serious and symptomatic medical conditions,” notes Mary Beth Mitchell, MSN, RN, CPHQ, CCM, SSBB, senior executive director of Doylestown Health’s Care Transformation Strategies. “Palliative care helps people with multiple symptoms really optimize their health, so they can live their best life with a chronic condition.”
Quality of Life Focus
In other words, palliative care is meant to enhance patients’ current care by focusing on quality of life for them and their family. In fact, palliative care has been shown to not just enhance their quality of life but may even extend it, according to one study in the New England Journal of Medicine. The research showed that patients with non-small cell lung cancer who received early palliative care, vs. those who didn’t, lived an average of three months longer.
“The concept is that with these additional services, the patients’ symptoms are managed,” says Anna Thomas, MD, medical director for the new Doylestown Health Palliative Care program. “There’s less stress for the patient, there’s less caregiver distress and more support for the family.”
Some patient diagnoses that might benefit from palliative care services include those with cancer, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), dementia, Parkinson’s disease as well as many others.
Because traditional medical providers often don’t have the time to sit with the patient and talk about their health goals, palliative care can help close the gaps. Palliative care staff works alongside traditional practices — like primary care doctors, oncologists, cardiologists, pulmonologists, etc., as a team.
“Patients may choose palliative care because they’re looking for another layer of support in addition to the health care they’re already getting,” Dr. Thomas says.
New Outpatient Program
To help these patients, Doylestown Health started its new palliative care program in September 2021. This outpatient practice works like any medical specialist practice and many health insurance plans will cover the services. Located on the third floor of the Doylestown Health Urgent Care building on Swamp Road, the clinic is staffed with a medical director (Dr. Thomas), a nurse practitioner, a nurse and a social worker.
Most patients will be seen at the practice and those who can’t make it in due to the severity of their condition will be seen in their homes. Wherever they’re seen, patients will be assessed by the care team for their functional status and for symptoms that they need the most help managing, like pain, shortness of breath or even depression. Depending on a patient’s particular situation and symptoms, the team will follow up on a regular basis by having the patient come in, or they’ll conduct a home visit or call patients to check in.
The arrangement is mix of case management with co-management (with other health providers). “For some patients who are not able to be seen in the office, we may be the only set of eyes on them on a regular basis, so our nurse may have more of a case management type of role,” explains Dr. Thomas. “…It’s a bit of a blended model between office practice and visiting nurses.”
Additionally, all patients are seen by a nurse and a social worker — either in the office or at home, which is not a typical offering for an outpatient service. “The ability to have a social worker work directly with patients is really invaluable,” says Mary Beth. “With our physician or nurse practitioner working along with the social worker and nurse, we are able to do a really thorough assessment and meet patients where their needs are.”
Early Attention Matters
Patients don’t have to wait until they’re in the most advanced disease stage to be seen under the Doylestown Palliative Care program. The program is available to them early in their diagnosis. This differs from other palliative care programs that cater to sicker inpatients at hospitals.
“Our goal is to help our patients avoid hospitalization and keep them healthy and symptom-free for longer," says Dr. Thomas. “We’re really excited to provide a palliative care outpatient program where the patients who are earlier on in their illness can begin to receive these services and hopefully live longer as a result.”
- For more information on the Doylestown Health Palliative Care program, call 215.345.2535.
Doylestown Health Palliative Care
4259 West Swamp Road, Suite 303
Doylestown, PA 18902
About Doylestown Health
Doylestown Health is a comprehensive healthcare system of inpatient, outpatient and wellness education services connected to meet the health needs of all members of the local and regional community. Doylestown Hospital, the flagship to Doylestown Health has 271 beds and a Medical Staff of more than 435 physicians in over 50 specialties. An independent nonprofit health system, Doylestown Health is dedicated to providing innovative, patient-centered care for all ages.