What is Palliative Care?
Charles Suggs lII, MD Medical Director of Gulfside Hospice & Pasco Palliative Care
So you have heard about palliative care, but are unsure of what it is. Palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is specialized medical care for people with serious and chronic illnesses. It focuses on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness—whatever the diagnosis. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.
Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness. Plus, it can be provided along with curative treatment.
If you are considering looking into palliative care but need to know more, below is some information that can help you to decide if palliative care is right for you. There are many benefits of palliative care (comfort care) for both patients and their families.
Pain and symptom control: The palliative care team identifies sources of pain and discomfort. These may include problems with breathing, fatigue, depression, bowel/bladder or insomnia. The team will provide treatments that can offer relief, including medication, along with massage therapy or relaxation techniques.
Communication and coordination: Palliative care teams are extremely good communicators. They put great importance on communication between you, your family and your doctors in order to ensure that your needs are fully met. These include establishing goals for your care, help with decision-making and coordination of care. Palliative care teams also can help families develop advance care plans, including healthcare directives.
Emotional support: Palliative care focuses on the entire person, not just the illness. The team members caring for you will address any social, psychological, emotional or spiritual needs. During the initial consult, the palliative care team member goalis improve patient satisfaction.
Family/caregiver support: Caregivers bear a great deal of stress too, so the palliative care team supports them as well. This focused attention helps ease some of the strain and can help you with your decision-making.
How do I know if palliative care is right for me? Palliative care may be right for you if you are experiencing pain, stress and other symptoms due to a serious illness. Serious illnesses include but are not limited to: cancer, cardiac disease, respiratory disease, kidney failure, Alzheimer’s, AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and multiple sclerosis. Palliative care is appropriate at any stage of a serious illness and you can get it along with treatment meant to cure you.
Other signs that palliative care may be helpful for you include: frequent ER visits or hospital admissions for the same condition, functional or cognitive decline, weight loss, increased safety and behavioral concerns, caregiver stress, chronic home oxygen use or limited social and home resources and service support.
Will my insurance cover palliative care? Most insurance plans cover all or part of the palliative care treatment you receive, just as with other hospital and medical services. This is also true of Medicare and Medicaid. If costs concern you, a social worker or financial consultant from the palliative care team can help you with payment options.
Do I have to give up my own doctor? The palliative care team provides an extra layer of support and works in partnership with your primary doctor. Your primary doctor will continue to direct your care and play an active role in your treatment.
Can I have curative treatment together with palliative care? Absolutely. Your treatment choices are up to you. You can get palliative care at the same time as treatment meant to cure you.
Where is palliative care provided? Palliative care can be provided in a number of places. These include hospitals, outpatient clinics, long-term-care facilities or home.