Palliative care is a type of medical care that aims to reduce pain and other symptoms of disease without actually focusing on treating the disease itself. While it is typically used in patients suffering from diseases that cannot be treated or cured, more medical facilities are finding ways to incorporate it into an overall treatment plan for other illnesses. Although physicians are required for prescription medications and certain other therapeutic interventions, the majority of the responsibility of palliative care in hospitals typically falls on the nurses and other support staff.
The overall goal of palliative care in hospitals is to ensure that the patient is as comfortable as possible. This can include prescription pain medications, counseling, and other types of therapy. A palliative care plan often requires joint effort from all of the staff involved with the patient, as each member of the team may have a different specialty that can increase the patient’s comfort level.
Pain management is usually the first goal of palliative care in hospitals, as pain can interfere with blood pressure, pulse rate, respiration, and other vital signs. Pain also makes it very difficult for patients to focus on other medical interventions designed to increase their level of comfort. The patient’s physician will determine the best pain medication and dosing regimen, but nurses provide valuable input as to whether the medication is effective.
Respiratory therapy is a common type of palliative care in hospitals for patients suffering from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia, and other respiratory illnesses that make breathing difficult. This type of therapy may include placing the patient on oxygen, administering breathing treatments, or assisting the patient in breathing techniques that maximize their oxygen supply and decrease their level of discomfort.
Palliative care in hospitals may also include providing the patient with access to spiritual advisers, such as through a hospital chaplain. Patients with strong religious preferences may feel more comfortable if they are able to continue their religious practices. While they may not be healthy enough to get out of bed to attend a church service, bringing their religious leaders to the hospital to administer certain rites can provide the patient with comfort. This may be especially important if the patient is not expected to recover from the illness.
Providing quality palliative care in hospitals requires working closely with patients when possible, as only they can attest to the effectiveness of the treatment. In situations where the patient is unconscious or unable to communicate discomfort, the medical team will need to use their best judgment to determine if the interventions are successful based on other cues. Palliative care is an integral part of any treatment protocol, as a comfortable patient is more likely to be a compliant patient, and compliance is vital in treating or managing any medical condition.