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What Is the Goal of Palliative Care? Resources and Tips

April 13, 2017  |  Category: Articles, Healthcare Administration

A caregiver holds the hand of an elderly patient.

During end-of-life events, care providers and family members work together to deliver physical and emotional support for the patient. Attending to basic physical necessities, such as a comfortable room and soothing surroundings, helps provide relief. Emotionally, the presence of family members facilitates the deep introspection often desired by the patient during this time. By encouraging family members to prepare for an end-of-life event as soon as possible, care providers can help them make the best use of precious and limited time with loved ones.

Healthcare professionals with the drive and desire to provide this type of support and comfort often pursue careers in palliative care. Current healthcare workers who are interested in leadership roles that ensure the goals of palliative care are met can consider earning a Master of Healthcare Administration (MHA) degree.

What Is Palliative Care?

Palliative care involves relieving the suffering of patients who are terminal. This is achieved through the early recognition of pain associated with fatal illness, and providing physical, emotional, and spiritual comfort.

When a patient’s condition declines rapidly, there is little time for planning. Care providers who are familiar with the patient’s health condition can help the patient and family members prepare for the event.

Nurses and caregivers listen to physician statements that indicate oncoming patient mortality. While every occurrence varies, common signs of oncoming patient mortality can include the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
  • Exhaustion
  • Mental confusion
  • Reduced appetite

When these symptoms occur, palliative care providers focus solely on the patient’s pain relief and comfort.

Care providers carefully consider how declining health affects both the patient and family members. To build rapport, they initiate conversations about the patient’s current conditions. While doing so, they approach the situation confidently but sympathetically. This dialogue establishes a precedent for ongoing discussion during a patient’s declining stages.

What Is the Goal of Palliative Care?

One of the goals of palliative care is providing as much care for patients as possible. Terminally ill patients typically suffer from several conditions that cause discomfort. These may include the following:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Digestion issues
  • Exhaustion
  • Skin discomfort
  • Temperature sensitivity

During end-of-life events, care providers administer as much medication as the patient needs for relief and attend to basic comfort needs. Caregivers can elevate or adjust a bed, or ensure comfortable air circulation in the room to increase patient comfort. Elderly patients may experience skin irritation during terminal events, which care providers may relieve with alcohol-free lotion or balm.

During terminal illnesses, patients may contemplate their spirituality and reflect on their lives. A patient’s faith or family can bring comfort to the terminally ill. For patients who are experiencing spiritual crises, leaders from their faith-tradition, such as chaplains, are often available to provide guidance and comfort. Care providers can help achieve the goals of palliative care by enabling patients to be with people who can emotionally and spiritually comfort them.

Many patients also find comfort and reassuring support when reminiscing about positive familial moments and connections. Therefore, care providers can encourage family members to talk about these positive moments. It is important for family members and visitors to speak to the patient directly, and not inadvertently lapse into a conversation amongst each other.

Palliative Care Tips and Resources

The following tips can help current and prospective healthcare professionals who are looking to help health facilities achieve the goals of palliative care:

Communicate concisely: Relaying negative health-related information clearly and empathetically is difficult but critical as a patient’s condition worsens. Palliative care providers must often repeat this process several times for patients and family members to absorb the implications as the significance grows clearer after each explanation.

Patients and family members must understand exactly what a negative prognosis means, because it is human nature to retain hope for recovery even amid the most dire of situations. During this process, care providers speak plainly and deliberately, which is especially important during stressful situations when patients’ and family members’ concentration and comprehension may not be ideal.

Demonstrate patience: Most patients nearing death will want to accomplish several tasks; however, it takes time for patients and family members to accept approaching death. Care providers wait patiently for this acceptance, then initiate a sensitive and appropriate dialogue about what the patient wants to accomplish before passing away.

Consider ethical decisions: Many patients want to spend time with their families, minimize unnecessary health care services, reduce suffering, and maintain as much independence as possible. As the patient moves closer to passing away, these goals are typically reduced to one or two key items. A patient or family member may request that palliative care providers take all actions to prolong life. Care providers must consider the motivations behind the request and the patient’s condition to make an ethical decision about subsequent care.

Involve patients and their families: Modern medicine presents patients and care providers with many end-of-life options. If possible, it is best to include the patient in this process while they are still fully cognizant and relatively comfortable physically.

The provider may also recommend that the patient host a private family meeting to talk over their wishes or update a living will. Knowing this information in advance helps palliative care providers understand the patient’s and family member’s needs.

Plan ahead: An advanced directive is the best way to relay instructions to care providers and family members during a terminal illness. Living wills and health care power of attorney letters express important patient requests. Care providers can offer advice on what to include in advanced directives, as they understand the circumstances that arise during terminal illnesses.

Advanced directives cannot account for every circumstance. Therefore, palliative care providers should advise patients to appoint someone to make decisions on their behalf during severe illnesses. They should also remind patients to review their advanced directives regularly in case changes are necessary.

Provide resources: Finally, palliative care providers should have a list of resources they can provide to their patients and patients’ families. Some sample resources are listed here:

Pursue a Leadership Position in Palliative Care

Your experience tells you what today’s health systems need. AdventHealth University Online’s Master of Healthcare Administration in Strategy and Innovation degree can prepare you to use that knowledge to lead.

At AdventHealth University Online, we value your experience in healthcare and offer an accelerated path to help you advance your career. If you’re wondering how to prepare yourself to lead healthcare organizations to achieve the goals of palliative care, learn more about how our program can help.

Recommended Readings

  1. Healthcare Administration: Salary, Careers, and Education
  2. How to Become a Hospital Administrator
  3. What Do Healthcare Administrators Do?

Sources:

  1. Get Palliative Care, “What Is Palliative Care?”  
  2. National Institute on Aging, “What Happens When Someone Dies?”
  3. World Health Organization, “Palliative Care”