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Compassionate Care Brings Comfort and Clarity

Kerry Eby, MD

Kerry Eby, MD;
photo by Larry Gill

Undergoing treatment for a serious illness can feel like an arduous journey, with little rest or comfort along the way. As if navigating the medical options weren’t difficult enough, patients must also contend with pain and side effects, stress and uncertainty. That’s why this winter, Overlake began developing a new palliative care consult service to help make the journey easier for patients and their loved ones. Overlake received two generous gifts to help fund this program—a $150,000 grant from the Regence Foundation and a $100,000 donation from the Gift Gallery.

“Palliative care focuses on addressing and relieving symptoms, as opposed to their underlying causes,” says John Nelson, MD, an internal medicine physician and palliative care specialist at Overlake. “If patients have a chronic or serious disease, we can work to ease suffering during their hospital stay and help support their emotional and spiritual needs as well.”

Palliative care doesn’t replace the patient’s primary medical care. A team of physicians and nurses — specially trained in palliative medicine — works with hospitalists, nurses and other staff to deliver an additional level of patient-focused care. Candidates for palliative care include hospital patients with advanced conditions such as heart failure, cancer, lung disease, renal disease or acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Even though palliative care is a specialty steeped in the latest treatments and pain-management techniques, it takes an old-fashioned approach. “We begin by talking to patients and getting to know them as people,” says Kerry Eby, MD, an Overlake physician board certified in internal medicine as well as hospice and palliative medicine. “We help them determine their goals during the course of their care. We help them realize they have options.”

In essence, palliative care is about comfort and relief. Overlake’s palliative care services team is highly experienced in pain management and can prescribe medications and therapies to soothe pain from cancer or nausea from dialysis. When patients suffer from anxiety or depression, a palliative care nurse may bring in a social worker or chaplain to help. Or, if someone nearing the end of life wishes to remain in comfort with as much independence as possible, a palliative care physician can adjust care to fit this goal. Communication and coordination are hallmarks of palliative care.

It’s important to note that patients receiving palliative care are not necessarily terminally ill. “Palliative care is not the same as hospice care, which focuses on end-of-life patients,” says Dr. Nelson. “It’s a common misconception.”

To receive palliative care at Overlake, a patient must be referred by an attending physician. Once that happens, “We’re going to listen to the patients’ needs,” says Dr. Eby, “and support them to improve their quality of life.”

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