Palliative care focuses on easing pain and discomfort, reducing stress, and helping people have the highest quality of life possible. It is appropriate at any age and any stage of a serious illness, not just end-of-life. It is an ‘extra layer of support’—treating the symptoms of an illness and supporting the entire family.
What is palliative care and what are its goals?
Palliative care is a resource for anyone living with a serious illness, such as congestive heart failure (CHF), chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD), cancer, dementia, chronic kidney disease, Parkinson’s disease, and many others. It is specialized medical care focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of the illness. Patients can continue to receive curative and therapeutic care such as chemotherapy, radiation, dialysis, and surgery while receiving palliative care.
The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and those who care for the patient. Symptoms that may be treated include pain, depression, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, and anxiety, among others. The organized services available through palliative care may be helpful to any person having a lot of discomfort, disability, or distress.
Palliative care services may include:
- Pain and symptom management
- Care coordination with your current physicians and anyone else who is part of your healthcare team
- Assistance with the development of your plan of care
- Practical help with the completion of insurance forms and with making decisions about options for your care and/or housing
- Help with advance directives and POLST’s
- Spiritual care, if desired
Both palliative care and hospice care are focused on the needs of the patient and their quality of life, but hospice is specifically focused on the period closest to death. Learn more about their differences.
How and where is palliative care delivered?
Palliative care is provided by a specially trained team of doctors, nurses, and other specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors. Palliative care is based on the needs of the patient, not the likely course of the illness. The palliative care team works together with the patient, their caregivers, family and inner circle, and the patient’s other doctors and communicates with all so that everyone is on the same page.
Palliative care can be provided in any setting, such as hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient palliative care clinics, specialized clinics such as oncology, and at home. Hospices are a leading provider of community-based palliative care.
Who pays for palliative care?
Medicare, Medicaid, many insurers, and healthcare plans will cover the medical portions—physician and nurse services—of palliative care. Veterans may be eligible for palliative care through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Check with your doctor and healthcare plan to see what insurance will cover in your particular situation. Unlike the comprehensive hospice benefit, there is no comprehensive palliative care benefit.