I am a palliative care physician. Daily I am asked to define and describe what exactly that is - palliative care. Simply put, palliative care/palliative medicine is the practice of meeting people where they are at. It is combining the science and art of medicine to look at the forest through the trees. It is taking the time with the patient to put the puzzle together so that the patient can understand not only the specifics of his/her disease(s), but the complex interrelationships of their diagnosis with respect to their values and goals.
A formal definition of palliative care: palliative care is a medical specialty that provides comprehensive, interdisciplinary care for patients of all ages with serious illnesses and their families with emphasis upon the quality of life and relief of suffering. Palliative care is provided throughout the course of a disease process without regard to prognosis and can be provided in concert with curative care, as well as near end of life. The Palliative Care Team works with patients in conjunction with their primary care physician and other specialists to address any physical, psychosocial, emotional or spiritual issues the patient may experience. Through understanding the totality of the disease process and prognosis, palliative care empowers individuals to live their lives regardless of age, diagnosis or life expectancy.
I began full-time practice in Fort Dodge with Trinity Regional Medical Center/Trimark Physicians Group this past May. The opportunity to develop a palliative care program that offers this level of service and engagement across all care settings - in the hospital, through an outpatient clinic, in long-term care facilities and even by visiting patients in their homes, was unprecedented. No other organization in the country is emphasizing such continuity of care. As such, we are able to meet the needs of numerous individuals and their varying goals.
If someone has not been informed of the range of possibilities of their given disease, they may be unaware of the realities of their disease(s) and of the power - or lack thereof - of the medical world they are faced with. How can we (physicians) know what is best for anyone if we are unaware as to their knowledge, beliefs, values, hopes, fears and desires with respect to their disease, their family, their faith, their meaning of life?
I offer, as a medical provider, that my time with patients should be about truth, about complete transparency, not about what we can do, but rather what we should do to meet the goals of our patients. Then and only then, will the patient be empowered to make choices about their illness, diagnosis and treatment alternatives, and will finally be able to see the "forest through the trees."
Gone should be the days of the physician who hands a map of care to a patient. Instead we need tom be held to our oath as physicians and navigate a path consistent with where a patient is at any given moment in their journey. We are obliged to engage with a broader sense of the human spectrum rather than our own. Only then can we be a profession that responds to the needs, concerns, hopes, fears and expectations of other human beings.
The Trinity/Trimark Palliative Care Team serves the Fort Dodge area and surrounding counties. We respond to patients' needs 24 hours a day. Engagement begins by individuals asking their primary care physician (or any other physician involved in their care) for a referral to the Trinity/Trimark Palliative Care Program. More information can be obtained by calling 574-8515.
Dr. Timothy G. Ihrig directs palliative care services at Trinity Regional Medical Center and Trimark Physicians group.