April 25, 2017 — Blog Post
Empowering Patients with a Common Language
The following is a repost of Geri Lynn Baumblatt, Emmi Executive Director of Patient Engagement, and Liz Salmi’s post on the Association for Patient Experience blog.
And recur it did.
Six months after Salmi’s first surgery her tumor grew back sending her into a whirlwind of treatments over the next two years, including a second brain surgery, struggles with seizures, a rigorous schedule of physical and occupational therapy, and 24 months of chemotherapy.
Fortunately, Salmi received excellent care through her neuro-oncology nurse practitioner.
But Salmi never knew the kind of care she was receiving had a name until five years after she completed treatment and started working for a healthcare nonprofit advocating for access to palliative care for all people facing serious illness.
“After I took the job it took a few months for me to realize I am a person who received palliative care,” said Salmi. “At the time, I assumed the care was the result of me being lucky enough to have been paired with an amazing NP (which could still be true); but now I know the name for it is palliative care.”
Why did Super Awesome Nurse never tell Liz she was receiving palliative care? We asked her!
“While I, as the healthcare provider, may have viewed much of the care that was being rendered as palliative in nature, not all patients are ready or willing to consider that most types of brain tumor care is palliative,” said Mady Stovall, NP, former neuro-oncology nurse practitioner and current PhD student at Oregon Health and Science University.
Avoiding the term “palliative” initially is understandable. After all, there’s a lot of confusion between palliative care and hospice. And no one wants to cause panic that a condition is more serious or has suddenly become more serious.
“The perception in cancer care is that palliative care is often (and inappropriately) equated with hospice care,” explained Stovall. “Sadly, this misconception prevents many patients, families, and even healthcare providers from being able to capitalize on the expertise and resources of palliative care providers and programs. “
However, if Salmi had changed health systems or had to find a new provider, she would not have had the words to translate the care provided by this “super awesome” nurse to make sure it continued or was re-initiated as needed. She didn’t have the language to ask for that care and advocate for herself.
“Having coordinated palliative care was crucial to my quality of life because my brain tumor was causing a lot of seizure activity,” explained Salmi. “I tried seven different anti-epileptic drugs (AEDs) over five years to finally land at the right combination of medication that worked for me. Seizures are scary and make you feel as if you don’t have control over your own body. That’s why palliative care is essential; these providers listen to your concerns and fears and make sure your medical as well as emotional needs are addressed.”
Giving People Language for Self-Advocacy
While we shouldn’t overwhelm patients with clinical language, helping them understand what things like palliative care ARE and ARE NOT improves their ability to advocate for themselves.
In fact, it was only after her recurrence that Salmi learned about oncology social workers. Had she known about this role, she would have asked for it when going through surgery and treatment for her initial tumor.
Not everyone is going to become an expert patient in health communications, but educating patients and families as they get and make decisions about care can help them tell us what is most important to them.
*As an additional note we are proud to announce that Liz and Geri will be part of a panel at Stanford Medicine X on advance care planning. Joining them will be palliative physician Dr. Michael Fratkin, researcher Rebecca Sudore, and MD/JD: Dr. Aretha Delight Davis.