On Point with Palliative Care: March 4, 2011

First, there's the diagnosis. Then treatments. Sub-specialists. Medical bills. And don't forget emotional issues. Dealing with a chronic illness can be overwhelming. "I think the best definition of palliative care is helping people live better with the illnesses that they have," says Dr. Andrew Esch.

Whether it's ALS, advanced heart disease or cancer, palliative care specialists like Dr. Esch along with his team make every effort to help a person deal with all facets of the diagnosis. "Anybody diagnosed with a serious, chronic illness or terminal illness can probably benefit from palliative care." The support includes not just physical pain, but financial strain, too. "An example when I talk to people about palliative care is, we may have a patient who has advanced colon cancer and we're wondering why they aren't taking their medication," says Dr. Esch. "We may have them meet with a pharmacist and we talk to them about side effects and things like that when the reason may be as simple as it comes down to: 'I either pay for my medicine or I feed my cat.' And that's what's important to them in their life so we have social work and pastoral care and really any discipline that we can help available to the patient."

Some people may assume that palliative care is similar to hospice care. While Dr. Esch does address end-of-life issues, his goal is to make sure people enjoy their life while they are still here. "What I hope to do and what I hope all of us in the Q-life Program here at Lee Memorial hope to accomplish is to change that culture so that the community, the healthcare community and the community at large, really accept what we're trying to din in palliative care which is offer the patients the best f what's available in curative edicine, plus the best of what's available in pain and symptom management and support through palliative care."

Palliative care teams are found at all four Lee Memorial Health System hospitals as well as at The Regional Cancer Center.