How palliative care delivers personalized healthcare experiences

No one wants to have to review the same lists of health questions or concerns at each new medical appointment, or with each new doctor. Under the traditional care model, patients with serious or chronic illnesses must repeat that experience all too often.

Nothing is more frustrating than feeling like your care team doesn’t know you or the unique aspects of your illnesses. Now, imagine a care model that's coordinated and cohesive.

Palliative Care from Carelon Health features care team members who are trained to work alongside one another to develop a relationship with the patient and caregiver so that they can deliver personalized healthcare experiences to those facing serious illness. It's an approach to healthcare that's often missing when patient care is not coordinated.

In design and function, palliative care is a medical specialty that, by nature, provides personalized medicine. The goal: care that relieves suffering in all facets of life impacted by the patient's disease and treatment.

Delivering holistic and connected care

Whether it's diabetes with complications, cancer, heart disease, lung disease, or another serious illness, it can impact a patient's entire life, not just their physical health. "Both the disease and much of the treatment for the disease cause suffering," says Dr. William Logan, Staff Vice President and National Medical Director at Carelon Health. "Palliative care is specialty care that assesses and treats the disease and treatment-related suffering."

When living with a serious illness, overall patient well-being is a factor often overlooked in poorly coordinated care. The heart and soul of Palliative Care from Carelon Health, however, is comprehensive, holistic care provided through a relationship with a caring provider.

Palliative Care delivers compassionate, quality care through an interdisciplinary team that includes:

  • Specialized doctors
  • Nurses
  • Social workers

The Palliative Care teams through Carelon Health get to know patients and their caregivers so they can tailor treatment plans to patients' individual needs. This provides better coordination of their entire healthcare experience. Palliative Care focuses on relieving physical suffering, such as pain and treatment side effects. It also provides support and interventions for related social, emotional, spiritual, and financial suffering that patients, their family, or caregivers experience with a life-changing illness.

Palliative care has long been recognized for its impact on cancer patients. Its approach is so beneficial to cancer patients and their families that several cancer groups recommend palliative care begin along with potentially curative cancer treatment starting from the time of diagnosis. These groups include the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the American Society of Hematology, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, and the World Health Organization.

"Just hearing the diagnosis 'cancer' produces distress in patients and families," Dr. Logan explains. "When Palliative Care is provided alongside treatment, patients report less distress, fewer symptoms of their disease, and improved quality of life. Many times, just the counseling and planning provided by Palliative Care can significantly alleviate fear and distress in patients and families by putting control back into the hands of patients and caregivers."

Relieving the care management burden

Managing a serious illness can quickly take over the life of the patient, their family, or their caregiver. Keeping track of various appointments, medicines, and at-home care instructions can confuse even the most organized of patients or care providers.

On average, U.S. adults spend eight hours each month coordinating care  for themselves or their loved ones, according to a Harris Poll survey commissioned by the American Academy of Physician Associates (AAPA). Family and caregivers often experience burnout, too. The survey also found 65% of caregivers say helping someone coordinate and manage their care is overwhelming and time consuming.

That's why, in a sustainable palliative care model, there's constant communication between the palliative care interdisciplinary team and the patient's primary doctor and specialists. Palliative Care teams through Carelon Health collaborate with these other doctors to facilitate the best patient care in any given situation. They can also provide support services, such as counseling, that enhance the patient's treatment plan.

Patients and their families can relax knowing their Palliative Care team stays on top of their healthcare needs, even as their disease or treatment evolves. The time patients once spent managing the complexities of their care, they can now spend focusing on their emotional well-being and enhancing their quality of life.

Improving patient-provider communication

Patient–provider interaction is another area of patient dissatisfaction with the U.S. healthcare system. In the AAPA and Harris Poll survey , 64% of respondents wished healthcare providers took more time to understand them. In addition, 40% said they are too afraid to speak up during healthcare appointments.

Good communication is essential when patients and their caregivers need to manage complex illnesses and treatment plans. Helping patients and caregivers feel seen and heard is a big focus of Carelon Health's approach to Palliative Care. Through carefully developing a trusting relationship, Palliative Care improves patient–provider communication.

Even before the first patient meeting, a Palliative Care doctor, nurse practitioner, or other care team member will review the patient's complete medical history. "With all of that information, a Palliative Care specialist's training allows them to provide detailed counseling for the patient about likely things the patient and family might experience during their disease and treatment journey," says Dr. Logan.

The one-on-one counseling provided by Palliative Care is invaluable, adds Dr. Logan. "Through planning, often the patients and their caregivers know what to expect and have the medications and supplies on hand to face predictable, acute challenges. Rather than being fearful in the face of surprises, they are prepared and can often treat predictable occurrences at home. Feeling empowered to be proactive rather than reactive is a much more comfortable perspective," he says.

Of course, not everything always goes according to plan. Here, too, Carelon Health thinks ahead. Whenever patients or their caregivers have a question, a Palliative Care trained nurse is only a phone call away and available 24/7. This simple tool can save patients a lot of anxiety and maybe even an unnecessary trip to urgent care or the emergency room.

Making connections that matter

Finally, connection with others socially can enhance patient well-being and further personalize healthcare experiences. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , having vital social connections can improve the ability to recover from anxiety, depression, and stress — all common in people facing a serious illness.

Supportive social connections  can also prevent death from chronic diseases. Social isolation, on the other hand, can increase depressive symptoms and the risk of early death.

Palliative Care from Carelon Health includes specially trained social workers. While all members of the team take the time to listen to the needs of patients, their family members, and their caregivers, social workers have specialized skills in evaluating social support networks for patients and caregivers. When social isolation or lack of support hinders patient care and well-being, they can recommend interventions to provide that support and social connection. These personalized healthcare experiences are designed to make connections that matter.