Palliative care is appropriate at any stage of a serious illness and can be provided at the same time as life-prolonging treatment. Palliative care addresses physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs and facilitates patient autonomy, access to information, and choice.
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The Palliative Care Division welcomes patients and family members who are facing a serious or life-threatening illness, regardless of diagnosis or ability to pay. Services are provided to inpatients and outpatients. Services vary, depending on individual patient and family preferences.
Treatment to relieve pain and other symptoms
The Palliative Care team has an expertise in the management of pain and other troublesome symptoms that may develop during the course of a serious illness. The goal of symptom management is to help the patient remain as comfortable, active and alert as possible. Good symptom control enables the patient to continue with favorite activities and enjoy the company of family and friends. The patient's care plan is individual and focuses on maximum comfort. Palliative care carefully monitors symptoms and uses a combination of medications tailored to the needs of each patient.
Individual and family counseling
Palliative Care focuses on the whole person: mind, body, and spirit. How the illness personally affects the lives of the patient and family is important. Everyone copes in different ways. Support is tailored to the needs and preferences of each individual. Supportive counseling is provided to those who find having a quiet time to reflect and to address their concerns helpful.
The Palliative Care team works to encourage an open dialogue between the patient, family, and medical team. Team members are happy to take the time to listen to each patient and family's questions and concerns. The purpose is to get to know the patient as a unique individual and to help the patient identify his or her personal goals and wishes. Palliative Care also works to provide the patient and family with the information and resources needed to get through this challenging time.
Palliative Care also focuses on those things that give individuals a sense of meaning and provide a source of strength and comfort. For some, this is connected to a spiritual life which may involve a particular religious tradition or practice. Our goal is to respect and support each person's connection to what is important in his or her life. The team can help to assure that the patient and family are able to continue their spiritual practices, whatever they may be.
Assistance with treatment choices and decisions
The Palliative Care team is available to help with decisions about treatment or changes in the direction of care. Even when treatment to cure a disease is no longer possible, aggressive treatment of symptoms is emphasized in order to promote comfort. The focus continues to be on intensive caring and support for the patient and family. The patient's physicians continue to be involved. The team provides consultation to the patient's regular physician who will continue to direct the patient's care.
Help in planning for care after the hospital
The Palliative Care team can provide information about a wide range of options for care, whether in the hospital, in another inpatient setting, or in the home. The goal is to facilitate a smooth transition, and to assure that care continues in keeping with the patient's goals and wishes. If and when hospice care is needed, Palliative Care can assist with making referrals to a hospice program in the patient's community.
The Palliative Care Division also sees patients and their families on an outpatient basis. Regular office hours are held daily in the Yawkey Center for Outpatient Care. Visits usually focus on pain and symptom management, counseling, advance care planning, and arranging for services in the community. Routine visits may be scheduled by calling 617-724-4000 and asking for the Palliative Care scheduler.
When an illness has progressed to an advanced stage, treatment to relieve pain and other symptoms continues. The Palliative Care team will remain closely involved, with a focus on intensive caring. The goal is to help the patient live life to the fullest with quality and dignity.
Bereavement support and referral
The Palliative Care team realizes that the pain of loss for a family continues after the death of a loved one. The team will keep in contact with the family in a variety of ways to offer support and to make suggestions for resources in the community, such as bereavement support groups. The Palliative Care Division mails one-page Bereavement Readings to the families at regular intervals during the first year after the death.
How does palliative care differ from hospice care?
Palliative care can be provided during any stage of a serious illness, even during active treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation. Team members can help with the transition to hospice care, if needed.
Memorials and gifts
Many of our services, such as bereavement, are not reimbursable. Every memorial and gift to the MGH Palliative Care Division makes a difference and is greatly appreciated.
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