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Frequently Asked Questions about
Palliative Care

physician and patient

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is care that focuses on relieving suffering and improving the quality of life for patients with serious illnesses. Palliative care is offered in conjunction with life-saving medicine and treatments. Palliative care can benefit patients of any age, at any stage in their illness, whether the illness is curable, chronic or life-threatening.

What ways does palliative care help a patient?

Palliative care specialists have expertise in managing distressing symptoms resulting from progressive illnesses and medical treatments. Some examples of these symptoms include pain, fatigue, anxiety, shortness of breath and decreased appetite.

Are there other benefits to palliative care?

Palliative care specialists also can provide medical counseling about your specific condition so that you and all your caregivers have a clearer understanding of your healthcare options. Sometimes it can be difficult to anticipate how a disease might progress. Even your cultural and spiritual needs can impact and influence your medical care. Your palliative care team member is there to help you and your loved ones understand your illness and manage the symptoms. They can also facilitate conversations with your family and/or proxy to discuss your wishes for medical treatments and future care.

Who is eligible for palliative care?

Any patient who suffers from a serious illness and could benefit from pain and symptom management, guidance in making difficult decisions and emotional or spiritual support is eligible for palliative care.

Will my insurance cover palliative care costs?

Palliative care is covered by private insurance, Medicaid or Medicare, but coverage varies by insurer. This service is available to all patients, regardless of ability to pay. If you have any further concerns about the cost of palliative care services, please talk to a case manager or your insurance agent.

How long can I receive palliative care?

There is no set time period to receive palliative care services. As long as a patient needs palliative care services, he or she will receive them. 

Where can I receive palliative cares services?

Palliative care services can be received at any of the Inova hospitals. There are also providers in the community to see patients in nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, medical offices and occasionally at home.

How do I start receiving palliative care services?

Begin by speaking with your doctor and case manager about your wish to receive palliative care services. A doctor's referral is required to receive palliative care services.

You can contact an Inova palliative care staff person by phone or email to learn more. Or, if you prefer, you can talk directly to one of the palliative care agencies located in Northern Virginia.

Does accepting palliative care mean accepting a new doctor?

No, palliative care is a supplement to your existing treatment plan. The palliative care team (doctors, nurses, social workers, and chaplains) will collaborate with your primary physician to provide complete, well-coordinated treatment that benefits you to the fullest. 

Does accepting palliative care mean that I am giving up on a cure?

No, palliative care can be received with or without curative treatment at any stage of your illness. Your diagnosis or prognosis does not affect your eligibility to receive palliative care.

Palliative care is just another term for hospice, right?

No, palliative care is offered at any stage of an illness and can be used in conjunction with curative treatment. Hospice care is offered to patients who are expected to live six months or less, and have stopped attempts at curative treatment in favor of a pure focus on comfort care.