Traditionally, there has been a gap between the care received in the hospital and home care for these patients. And Intermountain Healthcare has worked to close this gap by offering outpatient palliative care services.
According to Dr. Gary Garner, director of Utah Valley Palliative Care, the outpatient clinic prevents hospitalizations, gives patients a say in their treatments and helps them understand the “big picture.” The palliative care team meets with the patient and their family and listens, offering education and information about available options.
Once a patient has chosen what to do—whether to forego or move forward with treatment—the team then helps them achieve their desired outcome. This could include managing pain and other symptoms (nausea, anxiety, sleep problems), improving planning and communication among the care team members, and addressing emotional and spiritual needs.
One of Dr. Garner’s goals is to manage the patient’s pain, a part of which is streamlining medications. “We help people get the healthcare they really want – not just what they’re prescribed,” he said. “We involve patients more in their treatment decisions.”
The payoff of the outpatient palliative care services has been swift, as the team is already seeing a reduced number of visits to the emergency room and hospital admissions. “Instead of being admitted to the hospital for infusions, they can go to the outpatient clinic,” Dr. Garner said. “Preventing hospitalizations means cost savings for the patients and an improved quality of life.”
This new, more holistic approach, has already made a difference in the lives of patients. Utah County-native Gwen Clements was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable cancer that attacks the blood cells, when she went to see her doctor about some back pain.
After receiving a bone marrow transplant, Clements was referred to the outpatient Palliative Care Clinic at Utah Valley Hospital. The pain medications caused her to sleep a lot, which caused her to get depressed. A change in medications left her more alert and able to enjoy some of her favorite outdoor activities again.
“I am living with cancer, not dying with cancer,” Clements said. “I have nine grandchildren and I just adore them. I like to do things with them and I try to take advantage of the times I do feel good.”
Clements feels blessed for the care she’s received because it’s helping her live life to the fullest for as long as she can. She married shortly after her diagnosis and was able to celebrate her first anniversary with a honeymoon trip last December.“My cancer is most likely terminal,” Clements said. “I have known that from the get go. I get to stay with these lovely people to the end. It is very comforting. They will be here when times are rougher, and here for my family as well.”