All About Palliative Care

Author: Carolyn Vachani, RN, MSN, AOCN
Last Reviewed: April 16, 2018

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is a medical specialty focused on relieving pain and other symptoms. Palliative care also helps patients and families navigate difficult medical decisions and manage stress. When life with life complex illness gets distressing, palliative care can provide an extra layer of support. Effective symptom management is necessary for many patients coping with serious illness, regardless of the diagnosis or stage of disease. The goal of palliative care is to improve quality of life for patients and their families.

Many hospitals in the United States have a palliative care program, either as a consultation service in the hospital or in the outpatient area. A common misconception is that palliative care and hospice are the same. This is not true. While palliative care is part of hospice, it is also appropriate for individuals with any stage of disease, at any point in treatment. It can be used even when the treatment is likely to cure the patient.

Who are the providers on a palliative care team?

The palliative care team may include a physician, nurse and/or nurse practitioner, pharmacist, chaplain, and social worker. Some teams may also include nutritionists, massage therapists, or other complementary medicine practitioners. These practitioners work in conjunction with a patient’s oncology team or other medical professionals to provide an extra layer of support to patients and families.

What can a palliative care team offer me that my oncology team cannot?

The palliative care team provides another layer of support. Palliative care teams work in concert with your oncology team. Services provided can include:

  • Pain and symptom management.
  • Facilitating communication regarding goals of care and decision-making.
  • Emotional, practical, and spiritual support.
  • Coordination with primary care and oncology teams.

When is palliative care appropriate?

Palliative care is appropriate for any stage of disease and at any point in the treatment continuum. Unlike hospice, palliative care can go hand-in-hand with active, curative treatment. Palliative care is not limited to patients with a cancer diagnosis and can be used by any patient diagnosed with a serious illness.

Is palliative care covered by my insurance?

Most insurance plans have a provision for palliative care consultation. It is important to check with your insurance provider regarding your coverage for palliative care. Keep in mind that palliative care is a specialty, so you may be responsible for specialist co-pays when consulting with the palliative care team.

Not sure if palliative care is right for you?

GetPalliativeCare.org has a short quiz to help you determine if palliative care would be beneficial for you.

Want to learn more?

Visit GetPalliativeCare.org to learn more about this specialized medical care and to find a practice near you.

 

Start the Conversation also provides helpful information regarding access to palliative care.

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