Traditional medicine has typically focused on what's known as the curative model, finding a solution to a medical problem or disease.
Another type of care is the palliative model, which concentrates on reducing the severity of symptoms, rather than trying to stop them or provide a cure.
Dr. Gregory Auzenne of Rush Hospital is board certified in palliative care, as well as anesthesia, pain management and hospice care.
"Doesn't necessarily have to be pain symptoms," said Auzenne. "It can be problems with breathing, problems associated with congestive heart failure. Problems concerning renal or kidney failure at the end of life. However, the new palliative care model really stresses having this start early on in the disease process, unlike hospice care which focuses on symptoms of the patient at the end of life, death and dying issues."
Auzenne said patients and their families need emotional and psychological support, which may come through clergy and social workers, as well as doctors and nurses.
"These things may include but are not limited to bereavement issues, both for the family and the patients," Auzenne said. "The family and the patient in the palliative care model are the unit of care, unlike the death and dying process in hospice where the patient is the focus of attention."
Dr. Auzenne said approximately 55 percent of hospitals with more than 100 beds are using the palliative model. He said it's appropriate for patients of all ages, is best applied early on, and helps patients and their families through a very trying process.
Auzenne said the practice has been around for 20 years but board certification wasn't offered until October 2008.
Auzenne said palliative care is being used in internal medicine, geriatrics, surgery, anesthesia, and family practice, with the goal of improving the patient's quality of life.