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Hospice & Palliative Care Month Q&A with Alex Choi, MD

November 16, 2022

What are the benefits to a patient who decides to receive palliative care?

Palliative care focuses on helping patients feel better and ensuring clear communication between patients and medical teams. Examples of reasons why patients are referred to us include physical/nonphysical symptoms, socioeconomic needs, spiritual distress, and goals of care. Palliative care tries to help these issues through an interdisciplinary team of professionals. Here at Yale Smilow Cancer Center, our palliative care team includes physicians, advanced practice providers, social workers, chaplains, psychologists, a pharmacist, and bereavement coordinators. Depending on their needs, patients are welcome to meet one or all of our team members.

How does palliative care support patients’ relationships with their other medical teams?

Palliative care is just like any other subspecialty, so patients can continue to see their providers while receiving palliative care. One common source of distress for patients is miscommunication when different providers say different things. We work closely with the medical teams to facilitate communication to help everyone be on the same page, and often will communicate on behalf of the patient to provide clarity in unclear situations.

How has the field of palliative care evolved in recent years?

Research is showing palliative care is more effective when introduced early, even within a month of the diagnosis of a serious illness. Early palliative care has shown to increase quality of life, decrease symptoms of depression, and even help patients live longer compared to those who do not see palliative care on a regular basis. These studies have led to palliative care programs opening and expanding rapidly throughout the country for the past few decades. The demand is much greater than supply, so palliative care programs have also been focusing on educating key palliative care skills to other medical providers.

As we recognize hospice and palliative care month, what do you want people to know about this field?

Despite having a life-changing diagnosis, patients deserve to continue living their lives. We want our patients to enjoy dinners with family, celebrate anniversaries, travel with friends, relax on their front porch, mow the lawn, sleep through the night, and be physically independent. If you or any of your loved ones have a serious illness and might benefit from an extra layer of support to continue activities that are important in life, please ask your doctor about palliative care.

Submitted by Eliza Folsom on November 17, 2022