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Palliative Care: Know Your Rights To It

 

New York Statute

 

In February 2011, New York amended the Palliative Care Information Act, requiring doctors and nurse practitioners to inform terminally-ill patients about end of life options and counseling regarding palliative care. To receive palliative care information under the New York statute, the patient must reasonably be expected to be within the last six months of his or her life, a standard that is commonly associated with hospice care. The information provided to the terminally ill patients includes their diagnosis and the likely course of the disease, the options that would be available to treat the disease, risks and benefits of those options, and their legal rights to pain and symptom management during their final months. If the patient lacks decision making capacity, their appointed proxy or representative must be provided with the information.

Hospice versus Palliative Care

Palliative care is defined as medical care for patients with serious illness that focuses on providing relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress, and is sometimes also known as comfort care. Many people associate palliative care with hospice care, however, there are some notable differences. Hospice care is generally only eligible under healthcare insurance when the patient has six months or less to life, while palliative care can be given in any stage of the illness, and thus there are different focuses of the treatment. Both hospice and palliative care focus on providing not only medical support, but emotional support to the patient as well as their families, to help them cope with the process and aid quality of life for the patient. Most individuals do not realize however that palliative care is focused on symptom management, not making things comfortable for the end of life stages necessarily.

The Future of Care

Although palliative care was just introduced in 2007, it is now in over 70% of hospitals, with many expecting those numbers to grow as healthcare insurance changes. The results of palliative care have been very encouraging, reports ranged in results from decreased likelihood of ending up in intensive care units or suffer from depression, to greater satisfaction with care and spiritual healing; one group of cancer patients receiving palliative care actually were less likely to receive more aggressive treatment in their final stages and lived longer, when compared to those receiving traditional treatment. Another added benefit comes in the form of monetary savings, as many patients are able to receive care in the home, versus staying in the hospital or a hospice center. However, raising awareness about this new form of treatment is critical, as palliative care has been misunderstood since its introduction. Consult your physician regarding your options for palliative care if you think this would be a viable option for you or someone you love.

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