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What Is the Role of Communication in Palliative Care?

By A. Reed
Updated May 17, 2024
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Certain disease processes have serious side effects and symptoms such as excruciating pain, tiredness, and depression, which can adversely affect quality of life. The principle goal of palliative care is to improve and maintain normal daily functioning of chronically ill patients as much as possible. Communication in palliative care assists healthcare professionals in adequately meeting the needs of patients and their families, whether it be to provide symptomatic relief, advocating for the patient's wishes and preferences, or respecting expressions of cultural or faith traditions.

Palliative care has to do with the provision of healthcare services geared towards alleviating symptoms of illness and its effects, rather than focusing on treatment for obtaining cure from disease. Even though being free from illness is not the main purpose of palliative care, its direction and effectiveness does rely heavily upon how the patient feels physically and emotionally, making communication in palliative care very important. Sometimes palliative care is also part of hospice care, which are not the same. While a patient receiving palliative care could still be receiving curative treatment, the hospice patient is not, as he or she is in the final months of a terminal illness.

Family members are encouraged to voice concerns or questions that they may have regarding their loved one who, depending on the situation, may soon die. Families must be able to have closure through saying goodbye in their own way and communication in palliative care is essential to this process, as the patient's wishes may not be in agreement with that of the family. Support is provided by the healthcare team and social workers throughout their time of need.

The significance of communication in palliative care becomes very apparent as the patient makes legal decisions regarding his or her care. An advance directive refers to a legal document communicating medical decisions to healthcare providers when the patient can no longer do this on his or her own. An agent acting on the behalf of the patient can be designated to make medical decisions including whether to employ life-saving measures such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation or mechanical ventilation. Advance directives provide a way for patients to make their wishes known, which prevents disagreements, confusion, and further family distress.

Many professionals could be involved in providing palliative care to any one patient, including doctors, social workers, and nurses. To be able to offer patients a solid network of support, all members must work together as one cohesive unit. The continuity of care depends upon an effective system of communication among them.

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