By Jennifer S. Scherer, M.D.
When you live with a serious illness like kidney disease, you have a lot to juggle in maintaining good function and quality of life. Kidney disease can come with many concerns and symptoms. And while your kidney doctor is typically focused on helping you manage the underlying disease, it’s equally important to address all of your concerns and symptoms.
To help you achieve this goal, you should know about palliative care – what it is, how and when to get it.
Palliative care is specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness. This type of care focuses on relief from the symptoms and stress of your illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.
Palliative care is provided by a specially-trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with your other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. Palliative care is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided along with curative treatment.
In fact, it’s recommended by the Renal Physicians Association to “improve patient-centered outcomes… for patients who suffer from burdens of their disease.”
Here are three ways that a palliative care team can help you:
1. They will work with you and your other doctors on coordination of your care. Palliative care specialists partner with you, your family, your kidney doctor (nephrologist) and other health professionals to provide pain and symptom management, communication, coordination of care, and family caregiver support.
2. Palliative care teams have the training and skill to control the symptoms related to your illness. They identify, discuss and prescribe the most appropriate treatment options for you. These could include medicines, alternative remedies, behavior modification and exercise or physical therapy – alone or in combination. Symptoms of kidney disease range from pain, itching, fatigue, depression, anxiety, poor sleep, Restless Legs Syndrome, to dry skin and more. Addressing and managing symptoms is as important as treating the kidney disease itself.
3. The team will support you in making informed decisions at each and every step along the way. They will help you match your goals to your treatment choices. For instance, they can help you understand and decide what dialysis might add to your quality of life, and what the risks and rewards are related to kidney transplants.
For more information about palliative care, how to ask for it and where to find it, visit GetPalliativeCare.org.
Jennifer Scherer is an assistant professor of clinical medicine at NYU School of Medicine in both the Divisions of Palliative Care and the Division of Nephrology. She completed her nephrology fellowship in 2010 at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Medical Center. She completed a palliative care fellowship at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in 2014. She opened an outpatient interdisciplinary renal palliative care program in 2016 at NYU Langone Health, called the Kidney CARES (Comprehensive Advanced renal disease and ESRD Support) Program. Her interests are on the development of models of care for patients with advanced kidney disease that integrate palliative care into routine nephrology care with a focus on quality of life. She is a recipient of a palliative care leadership award through the Cambia Health Foundation Sojourn’s Scholar Leadership Program, and a grant from the National Kidney Foundation for a study on whether the integration of palliative and nephrology care can improve outcomes for patients with kidney disease vs. standard kidney care alone.