Palliative care for better quality of life now
If you or a family member is dealing with serious illness, special care is available to help control your symptoms and make you more comfortable right now.
What is palliative care?
Palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses.
Palliative care is focused on the unique physical, psychological and spiritual needs of patients living with serious or life threatening illness. Palliative care enables the best quality of life by providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, loss of function and stress caused by serious illnesses. Palliative care can provide relief from:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Lung disease
- Neurologic conditions (ALS,MS, stroke)
- Any serious illness, regardless if it is curable, chronic or life threatening
The goal of palliative care is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses and specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness and can be provided along with curative treatment.
Why consider palliative care?
Advanced or complex diseases come with challenging symptoms that can negatively affect your ability to maximize healing and enjoy life. Palliative care is provided hand in hand with curative care to help with symptom control and communication regarding options for your plan of care. It focuses on lessening the impact of physical issues on emotional well being and to improve comfort and quality of life for patients and their families. In some cases, palliative care has been shown to increase length of life.
Palliative care is not the same as hospice. Palliative care can be provided at any stage of illness, even if a cure is likely. Hospice care provides services for patients who are at the end stages of an illness and may have a year or less to live.
When is palliative care offered?
Palliative care is available at any stage of serious illness and appropriate for patients of all ages. Your doctor may request a palliative care consultation for you to assist with:
- Treatments to relieve symptoms: Expert treatment for relief of pain and other burdensome symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue, anxiety, decreased appetite and others
- Emotional and spiritual support for the patient and family: Living with a serious illness can be frightening, isolating and stressful for all touched by it. Palliative care helps foster communication and support to one another throughout an illness.
- Guidance on medical information and treatment options: Information regarding illness and treatment options can be overwhelming and confusing. Palliative care can help coordinate health information and care providers in a way that helps individuals define and achieve their personal goals for care.
What does palliative care do?
- Pain and symptom control: Our palliative care team will identify your sources of pain and discomfort. These may include problems with breathing, fatigue, depression, insomnia, or bowel or bladder. Then the team will provide treatments that can offer relief. These might include medication, along with relaxation techniques.
- Communication and coordination: Our palliative care teams are extremely good communicators. We put great importance on communication between you, your family and caregivers and your personal team of healthcare professionals in order to ensure that all of your needs are fully met. Among other things, we will help you establish your goals of care, help with decision-making and aid in the coordination of care.
- Emotional support: Palliative care focuses on the entire person, not just the illness. The team members caring for you will address any social, psychological, emotional or spiritual needs you may have.
- Family/caregiver support: Caregivers bear a great deal of stress, too, so our palliative care team supports them as well. This focused attention helps ease some of the strain and can help you with your decision making.
What can I expect?
You can expect to have more control over your care and a comfortable and supportive atmosphere that reduces anxiety and stress. Your plan of care is reviewed each day by the palliative care team and discussed with you to make sure your needs and wishes are being met and that your treatments are in line with your goals. You can also expect relief from symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping. Palliative care addresses the whole person. It helps you carry on with your daily life. It improves your ability to go through medical treatments. And it helps you better understand your condition and your choices for medical care. In short, you can expect the best possible quality of life with palliative care.
Will my insurance cover palliative care?
Most insurance plans cover all or part of the palliative care treatment you receive, just as with other hospital and medical services. This is also true of Medicare and Medicaid. If costs concern you, a social worker from your palliative care team can help you explore payment options.
Do I have to give up my own doctor?
The palliative care team provides an extra layer of support and works in partnership with your primary doctor. Your primary doctor will continue to direct your care and play an active role in your treatment.
Can I have curative treatment together with palliative care?
Absolutely. Your treatment choices are up to you. You can get palliative care at the same time as treatment meant to cure you.
Who else, besides the patient, can benefit?
Everyone involved! Patients as well as family and caregivers are the special focus of palliative care. Your doctors and nurses benefit, too, because they know they are meeting your needs by providing care and treatment that reduces your suffering and improves your quality of life. Palliative care provides an added layer of support for persons with serious illness and their families in the setting of routine medical care. Most importantly, it is provided at the same time as all other medical treatments, including those to cure disease and those to prolong life.
What are some common misconceptions of palliative care?
The biggest misconception is that palliative care is what we do when there is nothing else to be done – that it is only focused on care for the dying. A key message is that palliative care is appropriate for anyone with a serious illness regardless of life expectancy, regardless of what we think the outcome is.
The second misconception is that palliative care is the same as hospice. Hospice is a specialized form of care focused on improving quality of life for people in the last six months of life. Palliative care is a natural bridge to hospice for many patients, but many patients who are cared for with palliative care will never need hospice.
The third misconception is that it is expensive and not covered by Medicare or other insurance programs. That is not the case. It is covered by Medicare and Medicaid and by all third party payer insurance.
Can I get palliative care if I am at home?
Yes. Before you are discharged from the hospital, you, your doctor and the palliative care team will have discussed outpatient palliative care options that are best for your needs and goals of care.
What is the difference between hospice and palliative care?
Palliative care is for anyone with a serious illness. You can have it at any age and any stage of an illness, and you can have it along with curative treatment. It is not dependent on prognosis. Hospice is an important Medicare benefit that provides palliative care for terminally ill patients who may have only months to live. People who receive hospice are also no longer receiving curative treatment for their underlying disease.