What is palliative care?
Palliative care is an approach to medical care that focuses on relieving pain, stress, and other symptoms of illness. Palliative care is available to all seriously ill patients, whether the diagnosis is terminal or not. Many patients receive palliative care in conjunction with other types of care, such as dialysis, chemotherapy, or surgery.
Palliative care is usually delivered by a network of caregivers who work together to focus on the patient's overall comfort, including physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual comfort. This network of caregivers works closely with the patient's family to help everyone understand the nature of the patient's illness, the types of treatments and medications that the patient is receiving, and how to be effective caregivers for the patient while taking care of themselves.
How is palliative care different from hospice?
Both palliative care and hospice care focus on alleviating pain and other symptoms that a patient may be experiencing. However, hospice is solely dedicated to helping patients who are in the final months of life. Palliative care, on the other hand, is an approach available to all patients with treatable or terminal illnesses, no matter where they are in the life cycle. Palliative care is also often combined with other life-saving treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery.
Reasons to choose palliative care
Palliative care is available to all people suffering from illness. Whether you are continuing to receive treatment for an illness or not, palliative care can help you feel more comfortable physically, psychologically, and emotionally. In addition, palliative care can empower you and your family to understand and manage your care yourself, and deliver that care to you in the comfort of your home.
Where to receive palliative care
Most hospitals with at least 200 beds have some sort of integrated palliative care program, and so many patients can receive palliative care in a hospital setting. Palliative care is also often available at care facilities (assisted living facilities or nursing homes) and may be available to patients receiving in-home care. If you are interested in receiving palliative care, talk to your doctor or the hospital that serves you to learn about their palliative care programs.
Palliative care costs
Because palliative care integrates the services of many different health care professionals, it might seem as though the cost would be quite high. However, in general patients receiving palliative care generally save money, as palliative care tends to reduce expensive trips to the emergency room and long hospital stays. Most patients receiving palliative care are suffering from illnesses that are often expensive to treat in a traditional medical setting; by empowering patients to understand their own care in conjunction with their families, many of the costs often associated with these illnesses—specifically costs associated with treating unchecked or misunderstood symptoms—are avoided.
In addition, many palliative care programs are associated with Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), a health care model that uses integrated care to deliver lower-cost health care.
Communicating with your family
If you have decided that you would like to receive palliative care, it's a good idea to share your wishes with your family. For many palliative care patients, family members are integral in providing care; it's important for you to know if your family will be willing and able to participate in your care.
In addition, many people disagree with the values of palliative care, arguing that it is a form of "giving up" and believing that aggressive treatments should be pursued at all costs. If you have decided that you would like to receive palliative care and you have family members who do not support your decision, remember that you are making decisions for your life and your care, and while you may like to have the support of all family members, you can still get the care you want without that support.