2021 Top Doctors Spotlight: Mount Carmel Hospice and Palliative Doctor Philip Santa-Emma

The Mount Carmel Health System physician is the only hospice and palliative medicine specialist on the list.

Dave Ghose
Columbus Monthly
Philip Santa-Emma

How do palliative and hospice care differ?  

Both hospice and palliative care work to palliate—or lesson—symptoms, and both offer supportive care and treatment, but they differ in eligibility and focus. Palliative care is a medical subspecialty that focuses on the care and support of patients, along with their families, who have serious medical illnesses. It is unique in medicine in that it is not a specialty focused on a specific body part, but rather on the whole patient who is ill. Hospice care is the management of patients who are in the late phase of incurable diseases. The primary role of hospice is to relieve suffering and improve a patient’s quality of life.

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What is the biggest challenge you face in palliative care? 

One of the biggest challenges stems from the misunderstanding that palliative care is the same as hospice care. There has been confusion, since a lot of palliative principles are shared with hospice—the relief of suffering, the focus on what makes your own life unique, what quality care means to you as an individual, etc. Palliative care is appropriate anywhere and anytime across a patient’s disease—from the initial diagnosis throughout treatment and into recovery.

What types of patients do you typically treat in palliative care? 

Patients and families often think that palliative care and hospice care are only for cancer patients, but I see patients with advanced heart failure, renal failure, emphysema, stroke, as well as advanced cancer. Palliative medicine and hospice care are not focused on the disease, but rather on the patient who has the disease, their family, their support system and their own individual goals of care. 

This story is from the August 2021 issue of Columbus Monthly.