What Does Palliative Care Involve?
Palliative care involves providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness, aiming to improve the quality of life for both the patient and the family. It includes physical, emotional, and spiritual supportand symptom management, coordination of care, and assistance with treatment decisions.
Because each patient has different needs and preferences, the exact services provided may vary. Some specific services palliative care specialists may provide include:
- Symptom management related to serious underlying illness
- Patient and caregiver education
- Individual therapy focused on relieving the patient’s anxiety, stress or emotional distress
- Spiritual counseling
- Assistance with medical equipment and mobility aids
- Navigating paperwork associated with disease management and insurance
- Assistance with advance care planning
- Active monitoring of the serious illness, changing symptoms and side effects related to treatment
- Treatment options for fatigue, sleep difficulties and shortness of breath
To ensure effective care when and where the patient needs it, the palliative care team includes multiple professionals who focus on different aspects of care. Palliative care teams can include nurses, social workers and clergy members.
Palliative care specialists work with the patient’s doctors and family members to coordinate care and create a comprehensive care plan. A primary care physician typically recommends palliative care as an option when a patient has a diagnosis such as advanced cancer, renal disease or respiratory disease and requires assistance managing symptoms of the illness or side effects of treatment.
What Are the Benefits of Palliative Care?
Some specific options available to individuals receiving palliative care services include:
- Access to spiritual advisors who can address spiritual concerns related to dealing with illness
- Symptom relief related to side effects of certain treatments for a serious illness
One major benefit of accessing palliative care is an improved quality of life for patients going through specialized medical care for a serious illness. Effective symptom relief helps improve overall comfort and lets patients achieve their overall goals for disease management. Patients with controlled symptoms may be able to remain in their homes longer and may experience fewer hospital visits. Palliative care services may also help reduce the overall cost of treatment and symptom management because they can result in early detection of potential health issues and give the patient tools to better evaluate treatment choices.
Palliative care services are often covered by private health insurance. Co-pays or deductibles may come into effect. In some cases, Medicaid or Medicare may offer coverage for palliative care. A palliative care specialist or social worker on the care team can help determine which benefits are available. Most palliative care takes place in the patient’s home, so there’s no need to travel to access services.
The exact amount of time spent with palliative care providers depends on the individual patient’s needs.
What Is the Goal of Palliative Care?
The primary goal of palliative care is to assist people living with a serious illness who’ve chosen to continue treatment. Patients may begin receiving palliative care at any stage after a diagnosis, but starting early can help patients and families better manage a serious illness.
While palliative care and hospice care offer similar benefits, there are a few key differences. Unlike hospice care, which is intended for those who have decided to halt treatment and have an expected life span of less than 6 months, palliative care doesn’t require a cessation of treatment or a terminal diagnosis.
Because choices and priorities may shift over the course of a person’s illness, there’s always the option of switching the type of care received. Patients in palliative care may transition directly into hospice if they opt to halt treatment later. Likewise, hospice patients who choose to restart curative treatment may switch to palliative care.