Many cancer patients and their families receive the advice, from their healthcare team, that there is no response to treatment, and that cure or long-term remission is no longer possible. Once this ‘advanced stage’ has been reached, the treatment plan changes from curative to palliative, and the first priority of families is to ensure their loved ones receive the best medical and supportive care, for improved quality of life, for the remaining time they have. The Advanced Illness Benefit, which is offered by Discovery Health Medical Scheme, does just that – offering substantial support and assistance to its members and their loved ones at this advanced stage.
“This unique benefit, available since January 2016, in partnership with the Hospice Palliative Care Association of South Africa, aims to give people with advanced cancer access to holistic palliative care, in the comfort of their homes. The benefit provides personalised care, telephonic support, and pays for services offered by a multi-disciplinary palliative care team,” said Dr Linda Holding, senior clinical specialist.
One of Discovery Health Medical Scheme’s members, Greg, was 61 when his healthcare team let him know they could no longer stop his cancer from spreading. What started as cancer of the oesophagus, had spread to his stomach. Now in the advanced stages of cancer, Greg was still capable of the basic self-care, but he was unable to work or perform other activities.
His wife, Joanne, was his main caregiver at home. Although he tried to remain independent, Greg experienced frequent falls, drowsiness, confusion and accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity that caused his abdomen to swell. Greg’s doctor was of the opinion that he was much weaker than he wanted to acknowledge, and Joanne needed help with his care to make sure he was kept comfortable and did not sustain any further injuries.
With Greg being registered on the Advanced Illness Benefit that Discovery Health Medical Scheme offers, he had a dedicated care coordinator who kept up to date with his care. The care coordinator activated the benefit for him, after obtaining details from his doctor about his condition. The care coordinator then made contact with Greg and Joanne to let them know of the registration, to give them contact details for any support they needed, and to explain what the benefit pays for. This seemed to bring some relief to Joanne who was caring for Greg on her own.
Although Greg was initially reluctant to be referred to his local hospice to assist with his care, he agreed with advice, from his doctor, to receive home-based visits from the hospice nurses, and his care coordinator also arranged for care workers to help him.
Through the Advanced Illness Benefit, Greg received the care and had the cover he needed during this time. He received help at home, including home nursing, home oxygen and optimal pain management for about a month, and he then passed away peacefully in the inpatient unit of the local hospice.
“We created this benefit to offer patients with advanced cancer optimal palliative care.
Family members who support patients also have access to counselling. The response from family members has been overwhelmingly positive. We are pleased that we can offer them extra support at this very difficult time,” said Dr Holding.
A summary of the Discovery Health Medical Scheme’s Advanced Illness Benefit is as follows:
The benefit offers access to:
- A dedicated care coordinator to facilitate claims and care.
- Counseling services.
- Home-based medical and nursing care.
- Medication for pain management and other symptom control.
- Telephonic support.
The benefit covers: Specific healthcare services from a multi-disciplinary palliative care team, according to a specific basket of care and the agreed individual patient care plan.
It is important to note that specific entry criteria apply and patients have to register for this benefit.
*Names changed to protect personal details.