Palliative care a secret providers don’t want to keep

As a medical doctor, it’s always ideal when I can tell my patients that they will get better soon. However, the reality is that’s not always the case, and many of my patients have to endure their complicated symptoms or conditions for long periods of time or throughout their entire lives.

Palliative care provides support to families and patients struggling with the burden of serious and often long-term illness. Our palliative clinicians work to improve symptoms such as pain, nausea, fatigue and shortness of breath, and to create better quality of life for patients and their families. We start a conversation with patients and their loved ones about their goals and create a care plan that caters to their needs as they undergo long-term curative treatments.

Palliative care is not for those who are giving up – rather, it’s for those who want to live longer, better lives, despite their illness. It should be started as soon as patients are diagnosed with a serious, life-threatening illness, because there is so much we can do to help. We see patients with cancer, chronic conditions such as heart failure, neurologic illnesses such as dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis and more. We treat patients of varying ages – from young people to the elderly. Lastly, palliative-care consultations are covered by most insurance programs, just like any other specialist who might be involved in your care.

In earlier years, patients with these types of diseases didn’t have many options to preserve their quality of life and manage their pain. HopeHealth wants the community to know we exist, and our team is ready to offer patients and their families comfort and support.

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Palliative care is the health care industry’s best kept secret – but we don’t want it to be. Although the issues we address may be different, seeing a palliative-care provider is no different than seeing a gastroenterologist, cardiologist or oncologist. We are ready and willing to start serving more patients across Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts.

Jennifer Ritzau is director of palliative care and medical director at Providence-based HopeHealth.