“Our goal is to make complementary treatments available and convenient for every patient who is suffering from physical, emotional or spiritual pain originating in a serious or chronic disease.” Dr. Daniella Zalman
Complementary Care Sherri Shein
From acupuncture to reflexology, Rambam’s Complementary Care Clinic offers a full range of treatments to alleviate suffering in patients coping with cancer and other illnesses.
Cancer treatment, like many other medical fields, has evolved in recent years to accommodate a more holistic vision of the patient. Not viewed simply as a matter of targeting and curing a disease, recovery is recognized as a complex process involving the patient’s physical, psychological and spiritual wellbeing. Along with this paradigm shift, there has been unprecedented openness to supplementing conventional treatments with alternative therapies. “If a patient was once seen only by their oncologist and a nurse,” observes Dr. Daniella Zalman, a specialist in oncology and complementary medicine, “today there is entire multi-disciplinary team at Rambam dedicated to promoting their health and wellbeing.”
What is Complementary Care? Complementary care is the name given to non-mainstream practices that are used together with conventional medical care. Oncologists generally don’t have the time, resources or professional training to address all the dimensions of their patient’s condition, Dr. Zalman explains, even if factors not directly associated with the disease may have considerable impact on the recovery process. The goal of complementary treatments is to reduce suffering, whether the cause is physical or not.
Nice to meet you The Complementary Care Clinic’s team includes oncologists, internists, nurses, social workers, psychologists, alternative therapists, spiritual counselors and dieticians. Every member of the team has undergone special training in complementary treatment, which focuses on theoretical knowledge and improving communication skills.
“Most hospitals in Israel don’t have the facilities or staff to offer complementary care to patients,” Dr. Zalman notes with pride. “We are unquestionably one of the largest and most comprehensive resources for complementary care in the country, and we extend our services to most parts of Northern Israel.”
The Focus: Improving Quality of Life Does every oncology patient need complementary care? “It depends on the support system the patient has. Some patients are more open than others to investigating additional avenues for improving their quality of life, even as they are deeply involved in the conventional treatment process. They may choose to seek complementary care early or later in the course of their illness. Sometimes nurses in the Oncology Division recommend that a patient consider our services. Doctors also encourage patients to see us when they observe a problem that is outside of their scope, but could be effectively treated by one of our staff. Patients also refer other patients. Recent studies have shown that introducing complementary care into the cancer treatment process not only improves quality of life, outlook and functioning, but can also increase a patient’s life span, if integrated at an early stage of the disease.”
A Listening Ear While a busy oncologist doesn’t generally have time for long, heart-to-heart discussions with their patients, the staff at the Complementary Care Clinic are there just for that purpose. For many patients, just being heard can make all the difference. “In complementary treatment, I spend about 40 minutes with the patient and can give them my full attention. I ask questions about their situation at home. Who helps them? Have they seen a social worker? What are their anxieties and fears? Together we build a complementary treatment program that uses the resources of the center, whether it be a dietician, psychologist or spiritual counselor. These practitioners become an integral part of the patient’s treatment team.”
Weighing our words “Over the course of treatment, discussions between the treatment staff and the patient and their family can be very fraught, and every word can have a huge impact,” says Dr. Zalman. “Even if the oncologist’s message is ‘there’s nothing left for us to do’, this is exactly the place where we fit in. We let the patient know that, whatever their situation, there is something that can be done to relieve their suffering and fears.”
Who is on the Center’s staff? Psychologists and spiritual counselors: The Center’s psychologists are specifically trained in different approaches to helping patients contend with the challenges of their illness. Depending on the patient’s preferences, sessions may focus on talking, art or poetry. Religiously observant patients often choose to engage with a spiritual counselor to find relief and help recruit their healing resources.
Dieticians: For patients with challenges related to diet, swallowing or maintaining normal weight, the Center’s dieticians help them find a new dietary balance that is satisfying and meets their physical needs.
Alternative Therapists: We offer about ten different types of alternative treatments, intended mainly for ambulatory patients, including: bio-energy, shiatsu, reflexology, meditation and acupuncture.
Social Workers: The social workers augment the work of the psychologists and spiritual counselors, but with special attention to the patients’ economic and personal support systems, as well as their personal wellbeing.
Nurses: The nurses maintain contact with patients who were at the clinic or hospitalized. Patients can reach them by phone in case of emergencies and they are authorized to adjust their medications. “For our patients,” Dr. Zalman emphasizes, “it’s a great comfort to know they have someone to call if they need it.”
What is the vision for the future? “The hope is that, within a year, an entire floor will be opened up for us, dedicated to these and other complementary treatments, such as music therapy, art therapy, reiki, essential oils, and more. Our goal is to make complementary treatments available and convenient for every patient who is suffering from physical, emotional or spiritual pain originating in a serious or chronic disease.”
Medical Consultant Dr. Daniella Zalman Oncology Section Rambam Health Care Campus
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