New Mexicans suffering from cancer and other serious illnesses face more than just the symptoms of their disease. They often face debilitating stress that accompanies their diagnosis as well as difficult side effects from treatment. Often this greatly compromises a patient’s quality of life, including the ability to stick with treatment, enjoy time with family as well as continue to work and feel productive.
The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) backs legislation introduced today to highlight the critical need for palliative care programs, a growing field of specialized medical care that improves the quality of life of patients and their families by focusing on relief from pain, stress and other symptoms.
Senate Bill 173 will improve overall patient outcomes in two ways:
1. Establish a Quality of Life/Palliative Care Advisory Council that is made up of health care experts, patients advocate and family caregivers. The advisory group’s purpose is to raise awareness, availability and utilization of palliative care services through education and policy/regulatory recommendations.
2. Educate the public about palliative care by creating the Viva la Vida statewide resource clearinghouse to increase awareness among patients, family caregivers and health care providers about palliative care and its benefits.
“By supporting quality of life legislation, lawmakers have an opportunity to ensure that patients with a serious disease like cancer will have meaningful access to this more comprehensive model of patient-centered and family-focused care,” said ACS CAN New Mexico Government Relations Director Sandra Adondakis. “Palliative care increases the coordination of care, and by building awareness and improving access to palliative care, we can help decrease patient suffering and improve treatment outcomes."
When palliative care is used to proactively, overall patient care costs actually go down. Studies also show that it extends the life of patients. Palliative care is appropriate at any age and any stage of a serious illness and can be provided alongside curative treatment. It is delivered by trained specialists who work together with doctors and nurses in a team-based approach that focuses on the patients’ needs, explains treatment options and gives patients and their families a voice in realizing their treatment goals.
“Studies show palliative care benefits family caregivers as well,” said Jackie Cooper, AARP State President for New Mexico. “Family caregivers often experience high stress and declines in their own mental and physical health. Palliative care for the patients reduces stress for the caregivers, making it easier for them to care for their loved ones.”
Clinical research from the American Cancer Society demonstrates that patients receiving palliative care spend less time in intensive care, have fewer hospital readmissions, and generally experience a better quality of life during treatment.
“From the moment a patient hears the words, ‘you have cancer,’ all the way through treatment and beyond, they cope with pain, stress and side effects from treatment,” said Kathleen McVicker, a three-time cancer survivor and ACS CAN Volunteer. “We urge New Mexico lawmakers to support SB 173, which will address barriers to palliative care and give patients more control over improving their quality of life.”
Despite the benefits, palliative care remains a mystery to many Americans. Recent public opinion research shows that a majority, 70 percent, of Americans are “not at all knowledgeable” about palliative care. Yet, the survey also revealed that once consumers understand palliative care provides an increased emphasis on relief of symptoms, pain, and stress that is appropriate at any stage of serious illness, 92 percent of Americans would be likely to consider it for themselves or their families and think it should be available in hospitals nationwide.
ACS CAN, the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society, supports evidence-based policy and legislative solutions designed to eliminate cancer as a major health problem. ACS CAN works to encourage elected officials and candidates to make cancer a top national priority. ACS CAN gives ordinary people extraordinary power to fight cancer with the training and tools they need to make their voices heard. For more information, visit www.fightcancer.org.