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Palliative Care Frequently Asked Questions

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Palliative Care for Better Quality of Life Now

If you or a family member is living with a serious illness, specialized medical 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 focuses on 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:

  • Dementia
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Lung disease
  • Neurologic conditions (ALS,MS, stroke)
  • Cancer
  • 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, nurse practitioners, clinical therapists and chaplains who work together with a patient's healthcare team 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?

Serious illnesses come with difficult symptoms that can negatively affect your ability to heal and enjoy life. Palliative care can be provided along with curative care to help with symptom control and communication regarding options for your plan of care. It focuses on decreasing the stress 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 six months 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 healthcare team may request a palliative care consultation for you to assist with:

  • Treatments to Improve Symptoms: Expert treatment for relief of pain and other difficult 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 scary 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 healthcare teams in a way that helps individuals identify and meet their personal goals for care.

What Does Palliative Care Do?

  • Pain and Symptom Control: Our palliative care teams will identify your sources of pain and discomfort. These may include problems with breathing, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, sleeping, anxiety or depression. Then the team will provide treatments that can decrease symptoms. 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 healthcare team in order to meet all of your needs. Among other things, we will help you identify 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 can have a great deal of stress too, so our palliative care teams support them as well. This helps ease some of the strain and can help you with your decision making.

Will My Insurance Cover Palliative Care?

Medicare, Medicaid and most insurance plans cover all or part of the palliative care treatment you receive, just as with other hospital and medical services.

Do I Have to Give Up My Own Doctor?

No, you do not need to give up your own primary doctor. The palliative care team works 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 healthcare team benefits 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.

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, or what we think the outcome is.

The second misconception is that palliative care is the same as hospice. Hospice is a specialized 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 most insurance plans.

Can I Get Palliative Care If I Am at Home?

Yes. Before you are discharged from the hospital, the palliative care team will discuss outpatient palliative care options that are best for your needs and goals of care.

Outside of the hospital, you can contact an outpatient palliative care program.

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 life expectancy. Hospice is an important Medicare benefit that provides palliative care for patients who may have only months to live. People who receive hospice are also no longer receiving curative treatment for their serious illness.