Dispelling 5 Top Palliative Care Myths

palliative care myths

In June on the Most of Life blog, we debunked the top 10 myths about hospice. Today we tackle dispelling Palliative Care myths in our third installment of DRops of Wisdom.

Top 5 Palliative Care Myths Debunked

Myth #1: Palliative Care is end-of-life care and speeds up death.

Palliative Care focuses on the effective relief of pain and other symptoms, while supporting the best quality of life for patients with serious illnesses. Palliative Care is appropriate at any stage of serious illness and is often provided at the same time as curative therapies. In fact, patients who receive Palliative Care often live longer when they receive care from the palliative medicine specialist early in the course of their serious illness!

Another goal of Palliative Care is to help patients and their families better understand their illness, express their values, and explain what is most important to them, especially when their illness is very complex or advanced, so they are better able to make the decisions they might face if their illness progresses.

Myth #2: Taking pain medication causes addiction.

Patients with serious illness who need medication to control their pain do not generally become addicted. Sometimes patients with severe pain need an increase in their medication over time in order to control the pain. The increase is not due to addiction but a result of becoming tolerant to medication.  When someone takes a drug for the “high” they get from it rather than for real pain, they may be addicted.  The palliative medicine specialists are experts in pain management and carefully manages their patients’ medications so  pain and other symptoms are both safely and well controlled.

Myth #3: If my doctor recommends Palliative Care, he or she has given up and believes there’s no hope for me.

Palliative Care is appropriate at any stage of serious illness and is often provided at the same time as curative treatments. A primary goal of Palliative Care is to  improve the quality of life for patients. With this philosophy of treatment, we strive for reduction of pain and other symptoms (shortness of breath, nausea, anxiety, depression, severe constipation and others) and better treatment tolerance for patients. In fact, patients who receive early Palliative Care are found to have less pain and depression. When doctors recommend Palliative Care for patients with serious illnesses, they want their patients to live as fully as possible.

Myth #4: If I want Palliative Care, I will need to change doctors.

Not true. Palliative Care s provided by a specialized medical team who serve as consultants that work along with the patient’s other treating physicians. Any patient who wants and needs Palliative Care has the entire Palliative Care team working closely with his or her primary care physician and the other medical specialists. We discuss and develop an appropriate medical plan of care along with the other doctors caring for the patient.

Myth #5: Palliative Care only benefits patients.

palliative care mythsFirst and foremost, Palliative Care helps patients manage their pain and other symptoms; but at the same, family members benefit. How? Families feel a huge sense of relief when they see that their loved one is no longer suffering and finally able to eat  or sleep or just participate in daily life. Families also have much less fear and anxiety when they better understand exactly what is happening with their loved one, especially when the patient is hospitalized or acutely ill.

These Palliative Care myths are just a few examples of the many misconceptions some have about Palliative Care. Our interdisciplinary Palliative Care team are experts in developing plans to meet patients’ needs and desires.

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At Chapters Health System, every day is devoted to educating our patients and keeping them in the place they call home. We are dedicated to ensuring that patients, young and old alike, and their families are able to make educated decisions about important healthcare matters. For more information, please call our helpful Chapters Health team at 1.866.204.8611 or send an email to info@chaptershealth.org

palliative care myths

Mary Alfano-Torres, MD

Mary Alfano-Torres, MD, has been caring for patients for more than 35 years, and has dedicated the last 12 years of her career to delivering quality Palliative Care services to patients facing complex and complicated medical conditions. As medical director of Chapters Health Palliative Care, Dr. Alfano-Torres provides Palliative Care consultations at area hospitals and nursing homes, meeting with seriously ill patients and their loved ones. She manages their complex symptoms and discusses the illnesses they are facing, offering guidance and helping them put in place realistic plans of care as they move forward.

Dr. Alfano-Torres joined Chapters Health Palliative Care in 2013. Previously, she was the Palliative Care Department medical director at Sacred Heart Health System in Pensacola, Florida. Dr. Alfano-Torres also held positions with the Center for Hospice and Palliative Care in Buffalo, New York, including attending physician and director of the Palliative Care Consultation Service and medical director of the Hospice Inpatient Unit. Dr. Alfano-Torres has also dedicated time to educating future physicians. She held faculty positions at the State University of New York at Buffalo and Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.

Dr. Alfano-Torres earner her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York; her medical degree from the State University of New York at Upstate College of Medicine in Syracuse; and completed her residency at Michigan State University in Lansing. She completed a specialized program in Palliative Medicine at the Harvard Medical School Center for Palliative Care.  She is also a fellow in family practice, a diplomat of the American Board of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and a diplomat of the American Board of Family Medicine.

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