Canada’s Top 3 Questions About Palliative Care and a Palliative Approach

Canada’s Top 3 Questions About Palliative Care and a Palliative Approach

Canada’s top 3 questions about palliative care and a palliative approach
The most common questions from Canadians, "palliative care versus [any other treatment or care].”

What are Canadians asking about palliative care?

We were curious to know what Canadians are asking or wanting to know about palliative care and a palliative approach. While these concepts may be clear to some in health care, they may be foreign to others. To satisfy our curiosity, we did some online research to determine what Canadians were asking. Our results, shown in this article as “Search Entries” – identify the most common internet searches (from within Canada) which included either the term “palliative care” or “palliative approach.” I confess that some of these results were quite surprising.

As you read through the findings, you may want to reflect on each of the search entries identified. Consider who might ask these questions, and what that might feel like. Then consider how you, as a PSW, could respond if a patient or family member asked you these questions.

Most commonly asked questions: “Palliative care versus….”

The most common questions asked in Canada included “palliative care versus…?” Canadians continue to ask this question in ways that suggest a person must choose between palliative care and another type of care. For example, the search entries identified below show that palliative care is being considered but to the exclusion of other care or treatments.

In Canada, we are fortunate that palliative care can be provided alongside other treatments, and that a palliative approach can be integrated into care for any person, in any setting, for a person with any life-limiting illness. People do not need to decide between palliative care or other care options. However, this information has not yet reached all people.

Search Entries – examples

  • palliative care vs euthanasia
  • palliative care vs skilled nursing
  • palliative care vs ICU
  • palliative care vs rehabilitation
  • palliative care vs chemotherapy
  • palliative care vs home health
  • palliative care vs pain management
  • palliative care vs curative
  • palliative care vs nursing home
  • palliative care vs assisted dying

The most common questions from Canadians, “palliative care versus [any other treatment or care].”

How PSWs can be supportive

When a person or family member mentions that they need to choose between palliative care and [fill-in-the-blank type of care] PSWs can:

  • Share the concerns of the person and family with the care team.
  • If appropriate, follow up with the person or family and open the door for them to ask about palliative care:

What questions do you have about palliative care?”

“Would you like to talk with the nurse about your questions and concerns about care options?

  • Help educate the family to learn what palliative care is and is not.
  • Share resources (available through the facility/health authority) – printed, video, or internet links – that can inform the person and family about their care options.
  • Encourage the person to access the information resources when they are ready.
  • Open the door to conversations. Examples of ways to open the doors:

“I am wondering if you are interested in hearing how a palliative approach in care might improve the quality of life for your loved one?”

“It sounds like you are worried that your person has to choose between palliative care and chemotherapy/radiation etc… I am wondering if you know that a person may be able to receive radiation or chemotherapy at the same time as they receive palliative care?”

“Were you aware that a palliative approach can be integrated into care, as early as diagnosis, and provided at any care location – at home, in the community, and long-term care?”

Second most commonly asked questions: “What can palliative care do?”

Canadians have a genuine desire to understand palliative care and a palliative approach. The following list of searches clearly shows that Canadians want to know what it’s all about. They also look to palliative care for hope, asking “Can it cure?” and “Can it extend life?” And they are asking practical questions – e.g., “Where can palliative care be provided?” and “Can I refuse it.” It shows the hopes and fears that people have about what palliative care can and cannot do for a person with life-limiting illnesses. These questions may also suggest that the Canadian understanding of the term “palliative” is shifting, from being a term that people feared to being a type of care that is worth considering.

Search Entries

  • Can palliative care be done at home?
  • Can palliative care be reversed?
  • Can palliative care last for years?
  • Can palliative care cure cancer?
  • Can palliative care cure?
  • Can palliative care extend life?
  • Can palliative care be refused?
  • Can palliative care be done in a nursing home?

How PSWs can be supportive

Life and Death Matters believes that PSWs are the heart and hands of the care team: Of all caregivers, you spend the most time with the person and family. And because of time spent together, the person and family may be most comfortable talking with you and asking you difficult questions about palliative care. For example, if the person and family are confused about where the person might access palliative care or a palliative approach to care, you might consider sharing, 

“I heard you talking with your mom about moving her into a care facility. It sounds like you are concerned whether she can access the same supportive level of care that she is receiving now.
I know that the LTC facilities are striving to integrate a palliative approach to care, and wonder if you want to talk with the care team at the facility and let them know that your goals of care include the integration of a palliative approach in caring for your mom?”

PSWs can help a person understand palliative care by sharing accurate information and directing them to resources, pamphlets, and brochures available in their community and workplace.

If resources are limited, you might advocate for your workplace to provide palliative care information in a format that families can take with them to read at home. Or suggest the resources available at Canada Virtual Hospice, where they can ask questions and receive answers.

Third most commonly asked questions: “What is a palliative approach?”

In the next list are the questions Canadians are asking about a palliative approach to care. It is exciting that Canadians are searching for information to understand the term “a palliative approach.” It would be helpful to know whether the people asking these questions were asking for themselves, or for a person they care about. Regardless, as more people search for information about a palliative approach to care, it may become more accepted as an ideal way to provide excellent care for seniors and people with life-limiting illnesses. 

Search Entries

  • What does a palliative approach mean
  • What are the benefits of the palliative approach
  • What is a palliative approach to care

How PSWs can prepare

In the coming years, a palliative approach to care will be embedded across the country in LTC facilities, home, and community care. It will be crucial for PSWs to have a strong grasp on the fundamentals of integrating a palliative approach, how it benefits the person and the family, and their own role in integrating a palliative approach in their caregiving.  

In your role at work, you might ask the family, “What questions do you have about a palliative approach to care?” or “Would you like to talk with the nurse about your questions?” to let the family know that questions about a palliative approach to care are encouraged.  

In addition to the above suggestions, you could listen to the October 2022 webinar recording with Kath and Elizabeth. Elizabeth discussed how to respond to questions and shared a script you can use to respond, “in the moment” and adapt for use with different questions in different situations.

October Webinar recording

One Last Note

On a final note, our searches also revealed some heartening information. People are looking at palliative care for its benefits. For example, the following search entries suggest that palliative care and a palliative approach are being considered for people with cancer, heart failure, and dementia, as well as for dogs and cats! This reflects a new openness to embracing palliative care for people with life-limiting illnesses and is heartening!

  • Palliative care for cancer patients
  • Palliative care for dogs
  • Palliative approach for dementia
  • Palliative for cats
  • Palliative care advantages

2 Responses

  1. We’ll written Ann Marie. I see little steps forward. The fact that people are asking questions suggests an openness for a discussion. Thanks for your input.

    1. I agree – change is afoot for people to explore the difficult discussions. I feel this bodes well for people who will be more likely to embrance Advance Care Planning earlier in their life.

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Courtney Murrell is a PSW who works in hospice palliative care.

When she is not at work, she is spending time with her family, going on hikes or writing. Courtney is a lifelong learner and loves to share her passion for writing as a wellness practice.

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