Palliative Program Hailed as Leader

July 17, 2006
A hospital program that helps patients, as well as their families and loved ones, understand and proactively address serious and often terminal health issues has been recognized as an Emerging Champion of Change in North Carolina Medicine by UNC public television.

The Palliative Care Consultation Services Program, a program based at New Hanover Regional Medical Center in partnership with Lower Cape Fear Hospice & LifeCare Center, was selected as one of the organizational winners as part of a statewide campaign to identify innovative programs that empower patients to take more control of health care decisions. The campaign corresponds to the national broadcast of the program Remaking American Medicine.

The Palliative Care program helps patients facing serious decisions about their health care futures. For some, it may be the decision to receive care only to relieve pain and discomfort, and not to pursue a cure. Others may need assistance in coping with life-limiting illness or may want to begin end-of-life planning.

Care team members routinely screen patients and family members for spiritual, emotional, psychosocial and pain management needs, and refer them to resources to assist in these areas. Laurie Myles, executive director of Lower Cape Fear Hospice & LifeCare Center, said team members often address the educational and relationship side of life-changing health issues that primary care physicians cannot.

“I think what patients and families usually find helpful is that somebody is there for them,” she said. “Someone who can take the time to work with the family and support them through the decision process.”

The Palliative Care program, which began in 2002 with 279 consultations and has now reached more than 4,600 consultations annually, includes three physicians, including a medical director, and three advanced practice nurses. It consults with patients at New Hanover Regional, Cape Fear Hospital and seven nursing homes, and recently began seeing patients in their homes.

The program reduces the overall cost of health care - typically patient hospital admissions are 1.6 fewer days and $1,500 less expensive. But from the patient’s perspective, the program means much more. By helping patients and families identify how and where they want this care to take place, they are able to avoid unnecessary and often painful medical procedures, and they can dictate how they want to address end-of-life or life-changing issues.

The program began with a grant from The Duke Endowment, the first of its kind in the state. Since then, it has become a model for many other programs in the state. Myles said the impact is still growing at NHRMC – one physician recently said the presence of the Palliative Care team has changed the culture of the intensive care units.

“We’re hoping this does make a change in how end-of-life care and care for life-limiting illness is done in our state,” Myles said.

Patients are referred by their physician to the Palliative Care Consultation Services Program, though patients can ask to be referred. For more information, call 332-2279 or 1-888-521-4184.