Term ‘palliative care’ needs rebranding: study

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Dr. Camilla Zimmermann

TORONTO – A new study suggests a perception of palliative care as being synonymous with death is preventing many patients from accessing supportive therapies aimed at improving their quality of life.

Lead researcher Dr. Camilla Zimmermann of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto says palliative care can offer pain and other symptom control from diagnosis and through the course of a patient’s illness.

And she says not all patients referred for palliative care end up dying from the disease for which they are being treated. Some may live for several years following diagnosis.

The study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal compares perceptions of the term palliative care among cancer patients who received the extra care versus those who got only standard treatment.

Zimmermann says those enrolled in palliative care changed their view dramatically and saw the service as beneficial to their quality of life, while patients who didn’t continued to see it as frightening.

But she says even patients in the intervention group still felt stigmatized by the label “palliative care” and believed it should be renamed or rebranded.

“Importantly, the source of this stigma was mainly in the medical system because doctors and nurses had given the impression that palliative care was only end-of-life care,” said Zimmermann. “Another source of stigma was media.

“So we have a branding issue and that’s the central message of this research. Although the definition has changed, we are not promoting it in the right way in the health-care system.