Palliative care is comprehensive care for patients and families with a focus on alleviating suffering from serious, chronic illness. This holistic approach encompasses decision-making and establishing the goals of care; symptom assessment and pain management; and meeting physical, emotional, spiritual and practical needs.
The goal of palliative care is to give a patient the best possible quality of life by relieving pain and other discomforting symptoms (such as nausea and shortness of breath). The palliative care team also works to relieve stress and worry by addressing the emotional, spiritual and practical needs of both patient and family.
Palliative treatment does not replace other treatments: it can be performed along-side any life-prolonging care or curative treatments a patient receives.
In other words, palliative care is not the same as hospice care.
Hospice, which shares many features of palliative care, is designed specifically for patients whose life expectancy is six months or less. Palliative care, on the other hand, encompasses end-of-life care as well as life-prolonging measures for people living with serious illnesses.
The interdisciplinary palliative care team includes physicians, nurses, social workers, clergy, dieticians and volunteers. They deliver support options tailored to the distinct needs of patients and families.
Palliative care at VCU Massey Cancer Center
At a glance:
- 11-bed inpatient unit
- About 50 percent of patients have cancer
- Large family room with full kitchen
- Liberal visiting hours; children of all ages and pets allowed
- Clinical staff meets daily to coordinate the needs for each patient and family
Research published by members of the VCU Massey palliative care team have received national attention. One study, featured in The Wall Street Journal, underscored that palliative care is not only the right way to treat the seriously ill, it also has the unintended outcome of cost savings for health care institutions.
“Instead of spending resources on ‘last-ditch efforts’ when there is no cure, we can help families get on the same page with regards to care and enjoy the best quality of life possible,” wrote Thomas J. Smith, M.D., co-founder and former medical director of the VCU Massey palliative care program.
Another study addresses chemotherapy at the end of life. Titled “When is Enough, Enough?”, it provides guidelines to help patients and families balance the benefits and side effects of chemotherapy when the chances of the cancer shrinking may be small.
VCU Massey is a nationally recognized palliative care leader in other ways:
- Massey is one of six Palliative Care Leadership Centers nationwide designated by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to provide on-site training for clinicians and administrators. Personnel from more than 75 institutions have learned how to develop and manage palliative care programs from experts at Massey.
- Massey serves as the Virginia Initiative for Palliative Care training site, with funding from the legislature, to provide free on-site training to health care and supportive care professionals statewide.
- Massey is one of three out of 1,500 palliative care programs to win the prestigious Circle of Life award from the American Hospital Association, among other awards.
VCU Massey Cancer Center’s Palliative Care Unit is recognized as one of the nation’s best. With the help of ongoing philanthropic support, the program sets new standards of care, conducts groundbreaking research and serves as a model and training ground for facilities across the nation.
Your support of Massey's Thomas Palliative Care Fund is appreciated! Give now.