What is palliative care-ft
What is palliative care-pv

What Is Palliative Care?

Supportive Care When You Need It

If you or a loved one is living with a serious illness, you may have heard the term “palliative care” or “palliative medicine.” There are several questions that patients and families often ask about palliative care, the first is often “What is it?”

Palliative care, also called palliative medicine, is a medical specialty that aims to improve quality of life for patients and their families living with a serious illness, such as:

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney failure
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)

A key focus is providing relief from the symptoms and stress of serious illness. Another is coordinating with patients, their families and their care team to provide guidance and support related to complex medical decisions.

According to Melanie M. Smith, MD, a palliative care physician at Northwestern Medicine, most patients receive palliative care while they get active treatments for their medical conditions.

“A patient with cancer can receive palliative care while undergoing chemotherapy,” she explains. “A palliative care team may help with relief from the symptoms of cancer or side effects of treatment, as well as any stress caused by the diagnosis, while the oncology care team focuses on the treatment of the cancer. The two teams work closely together.”

In addition to helping patients with serious health conditions improve their quality of life, palliative care teams help patients and their families with advance care planning or serious illness care (discussions about living with an illness and planning for future care).

A serious illness and associated treatments can cause a range of symptoms and side effects that challenge your body, mind and spirit. To accommodate your present and future care needs, a palliative care team may include:

  • Physicians
  • Social workers
  • Advanced practice nurses
  • Registered nurses
  • Chaplains
  • Child life specialists
  • Pharmacists

When is the right time for palliative care?

According to Dr. Smith, you should schedule a consultation with a palliative care team whenever you, your family members or your physician feel you may need help with your symptoms or coping with a serious illness.

“A patient may need support or medications to work through depression and stress related to living with chronic lung disease while a patient with cancer may need help with pain management, which could potentially prevent an unwanted hospitalization,” says Dr. Smith. “Palliative care tries to shift the medical approach from crisis intervention to crisis prevention.”

Most insurance plans, including Medicare, cover palliative medicine consultations. You may need to pay an additional co‐payment. Contact your insurance and/or healthcare provider before your visit.

Is palliative care the same thing as hospice care?

No. Palliative care can be part of the care plan for any patient with a serious medical condition.

“The goal is to help you live as well as you can, for as long as you can. The goal of hospice is the same — helping you live as well as you can — but hospice is for patients who no longer want or cannot tolerate active treatments for their condition,” says Dr. Smith.

When a patient decides to stop or go without treatment for a serious illness, or if they are near the end of their life, they may decide to enter hospice care.