Northwestern Medicine Palliative Care Frequently Asked Questions
Palliative Care FAQ
Learn more about Northwestern Medicine Palliative Care services with these frequently asked questions.
- What can I expect from palliative care services?
- Who brings a palliative care specialist?
- When is the best time to request a palliative care consultation?
- How does palliative care differ from hospice?
- Is a palliative care consultation only for a cancer diagnosis?
- How do palliative care specialists work with my own physician and other healthcare professionals caring for me?
- Who pays for a palliative care consultation?
- How do I talk to my doctor about palliative care?
- Use the following tips to help talk with your doctor:
- How are family members involved in a palliative care consultation?
As the patient, you can ask your primary care physician(s) or primary specialist about having a palliative care consultation. Your physician can request a consultation in palliative care the same way he or she would request a consultation from other specialists, such as a surgeon, neurologist or infectious disease specialist. Physicians often use consultations with medical colleagues to enhance their ability to care for their patients.
The goal of palliative care is to enhance your quality of life as you face a serious and potentially life-limiting illness. Using an interdisciplinary team approach, it is designed to provide relief from pain and discomfort—whether physical, emotional or spiritual. A consultation with palliative care specialists will help you:
- Improve quality of life
- Clarify your goals for care
- Make medical decisions and choose treatment that will align with your goals
- Connect with any support services you need for emotional and spiritual concerns
Consultations in palliative care are provided at any stage of a serious illness or diagnosis. Palliative care is appropriate from the time of receiving a diagnosis. Ideally, it spans a period of months to years. Palliative care can be delivered alongside treatments that are meant to cure your disease or help you recover, such as:
- Aerosol therapies
Supporting you and your family—regardless of the stage of the illness or treatment—can more effectively allow you to live well, whatever the diagnosis.
Palliative care is not the same as hospice, although palliative care is frequently involved in care at the end of life. Palliative care can begin at any stage of a serious, life-altering illness—at the time of diagnosis is best—to help you live with your illness, manage side effects of aggressive, curative treatment and find ways to handle day-to-day challenges. Palliative care can help shift the medical approach from crisis intervention to crisis prevention. For example, good symptom management can help avoid an emergency hospitalization.
If you face a complex, serious health issue, you can benefit from a palliative care consultation. This means that palliative care can help you whether you expect full recovery, experience progressive loss of function (aging or a chronic condition), or have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Patients we work with have a variety of serious medical conditions, such as:
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- Kidney failure
- Alzheimer's disease
- Cardiac disease such as heart failure
Our team of specialists will work closely with your physicians and other healthcare professionals to identify care options that will improve your quality of life. After your initial consultation, we discuss our recommendations with your healthcare providers and help coordinate your care. We communicate regularly with your physicians to avoid a disorganized approach to your care, especially when you change locations—like returning home from a hospital stay.
Our palliative care services program is a clinical consultation service that works with your physicians to manage and enhance your medical care. Therefore, Medicare and Medicaid cover the consultative services of our palliative care specialists. Coverage through private insurance varies, but we can work with you to explain and evaluate payment options. If you do not have insurance or the ability to pay for services, efforts will be made to waive or reduce fees.
Anyone can request a consultation—you, a family member, another caregiver or a medical professional—so you can ask your doctor for a referral to receive palliative medicine services. We always start by conferring with your physician to determine if a palliative medicine consultation is an appropriate next step. Whether you are at the hospital, a rehabilitation facility or at home, palliative medicine can help you.
If a palliative care consultation is right for you or your loved one, our physicians, nurse practitioner or social worker will visit you in the hospital, rehabilitation facility or at your home to evaluate your physical needs. We will also assess the emotional support you may need as a result of your illness.
We then make recommendations to the referring physician for enhancing your care and provide follow-up as needed. We keep your physician and other healthcare providers well-informed about the consultation and any follow-up visits.
- Be an informed consumer and be specific in explaining issues regarding your illness or recovery, as well as the pain and symptoms you are experiencing.
- Palliative care specialists work to help improve your quality of life and to help you find relief from issues caused by your illness.
- Tell your doctor that you want to talk with a palliative care specialist to address the pain and symptoms you are experiencing.
The palliative care team works with you and your family to help reduce anxiety and stress related to your pain, symptoms or underlying illness. Our team will listen carefully to and respect your goals, preferences and choices, with sensitivity to religious and cultural preferences.
We make sure that family members are involved and receive support through the course of a loved one's illness—because we know the health and well-being of your family or caregivers can help improve your quality of life, too.