Palliative Care:
treating the whole person improves quality of life

By addressing the emotional, spiritual and psychological sides of disease, palliative care treats the whole person and not just the illness. This specialized care for people with serious illnesses focuses on minimizing pain, symptoms and stress is often transformative support for both our patients and their families.

Northwest Kidney Centers introduced the world’s first palliative care program for dialysis patients in 2017 because it can transform lives. Our interdisciplinary Kidney Palliative Care team is made up of nephrologist Dr. Daniel Lam, social worker Jennifer Christophel Lichti and supervisor/nurse Megan Nolan.

Team members meet patients where they are -– physically, emotionally and geographically -– to help them find a balance among independence, comfort and longevity.

An interdisciplinary approach

Comprising a physician board-certified in palliative care and nephrology, a nurse and a social worker, the Kidney Palliative Care team goes to a patient’s home or dialysis clinic to consult with the patient about how to maximize quality of life. The team meets weekly and creates tailored plans for each of their patients.

Team members share responsibilities, each bringing their professional expertise to help patients cope with anything from pain and depression to insomnia and mobility issues. By helping to manage symptoms that interfere with quality of life, the team treats the whole person in partnership with the dialysis care team.

In addition to their specialties, team members are skilled in discussions about difficult health care decision-making, conversations about goals of care, and advance care planning for the end of life.

Palliative care vs. hospice

Palliative care is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness and can be provided along with curative treatment. It focuses on relief from the symptoms, pain and stress of a serious illness — whatever the diagnosis. The goal is to improve quality of life.

“What matters most to patients is how to live well with the optimum quality of life,” says Dr. Dan Lam, “and it varies from patient to patient.”

In palliative care, you do not have to give up treatment that might cure a serious illness. Palliative care can be provided along with curative treatment and may begin at the time of diagnosis.

At some point, it may not be possible to cure a serious illness, or a patient may choose not to undergo certain treatments. In such situations, hospice is appropriate.

Hospice can be provided in any setting—home, nursing home, assisted living facility or inpatient hospital. Like palliative care, hospice provides comprehensive comfort care as well as support for the family, but, in hospice, attempts to cure the person’s illness are stopped.

Palliative care can transition into hospice care or continue to help with increasing emphasis on comfort care.