What is Palliative Care?


What is Palliative Care?


Are you the caregiver for a loved one with a serious illness or injury? If so, palliative care might be just what you need! Patients of any age, including children, can benefit from palliative care at any stage of an illness or injury. Read on to learn more — you’ll be glad you did!

What is palliative care?

Palliative care aims to improve the quality of life for seriously-ill patients and their families. Patients in active treatment, as well as those at the end of their lives, can benefit from palliative care. A palliative care team does not replace primary medical treatment. Instead, the team works to relieve side effects, discomfort, symptoms, emotional stress, and other stressors of serious illnesses. Patients can receive palliative care services at home, in a long-term care facility, or in a hospital.

What kinds of specialists make up a palliative care team?

Typically, a palliative care team consists of doctors, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, nutritionists, religious or spiritual advisors, and other professionals. 

Don’t confuse palliative care with hospice care.

If you’re confused about the difference between palliative care and hospice care you’re not alone. Simply put, hospice care is for patients at the end of their lives. Palliative care is for any patient dealing with a serious medical condition, regardless of their prognosis. Although hospice care generally includes palliative care, not all palliative care includes hospice care.

How can palliative care help your loved one?

Palliative care helps patients feel better. 

A palliative care program can relieve a wide variety of symptoms and side effects, including pain, fatigue, nausea, constipation, and sleep issues. The team can also help you and your loved one manage anxiety, depression, and stress.

It makes care planning easier.

A palliative care team can help you and your loved one understand treatment options, making it easier to make treatment decisions. 

Additionally, the team will help you develop the plan of care, as well as work with you to create an advance directive and a POLST to ensure your loved one receives the level of care he/she desires.

The team improves communication.

A palliative care team facilitates communication between you and your loved one’s medical team. Additionally, the team manages communication between your loved one’s doctors and helps coordinate care. Furthermore, the palliative care team will make sure every member of the medical team treats your loved one according to his/her desires. 

The team improves transitions in care.

The team helps transitions in care go smoothly, such as a move from the hospital to a rehab facility, or from hospital to home. 

Research shows palliative care helps patients.

Studies show that patients who receive palliative care report improvement in:

  • Pain, nausea, and shortness of breath.
  • Communication with their health care providers and with their family members.
  • Emotional support.

Additionally, research shows that starting palliative care early in the course of an illness helps patients and families by:

  • Ensuring that care is in accordance with patients’ wishes.
  • Decreasing stress.
  • Increasing confidence in decision making.
  • Meeting their emotional and spiritual needs.

Does your loved one need palliative care?

Palliative care can help most patients dealing with a serious illness or injury, including, but not limited to, those with cancer, ALS, heart disease, AIDS, kidney failure, and respiratory diseases. However, some patients need it more than others. For instance, palliative care could be quite helpful if your loved one has physical and/or emotional pain that is not well controlled. And palliative care could be very helpful if you and your loved one need help understanding the diagnosis and treatment options.

Most patients miss out on palliative care.

Unfortunately, many patients who could benefit from palliative care don’t receive it. Why? Read below to learn the three main factors that influence a patient’s likelihood of receiving palliative care.

Most patients are unaware.

Most people don’t know about palliative care. For instance, a survey of over 3,000 US adults found that 71 percent had no knowledge of palliative care. Moreover, among those who stated they had “adequate knowledge”, many held incorrect beliefs. Given that most people don’t know about palliative care, it’s no surprise that patients and families rarely ask for it!

Financial interests can dissuade doctors.

Certainly, it costs healthcare systems money to create and run palliative care teams. But the benefits of a palliative care program, including a reduction in hospital stays and ER visits, along with better care coordination, can reduce incomes for hospitals. These financial interests can make doctors reluctant to recommend palliative care. 

Many doctors don’t understand palliative care.

Not all doctors understand the benefits of palliative care – some even confuse it with hospice care. Unfortunately, many doctors never receive training on addressing the physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering patients can experience, including little or no training regarding palliative care services. Of course, it’s unlikely that doctors will recommend palliative care if they don’t understand it.

How can your loved one get palliative care?

Ask your loved one’s doctor for a referral. And if your loved one’s doctor seems reluctant, don’t give up too easily! Importantly, there is a “severe shortage” of palliative care doctors. So, it might be hard to find a team, and you may have to wait before services can begin.

When is a good time to start palliative care?

The sooner the better — it’s never too early in the process. But in most cases, it’s never too late either.

Who pays for palliative care?

Most insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover palliative care. But it’s a good idea to call your insurance company and ask what services are covered, length of coverage, and expected co-payments.


GetPalliativeCare.org, for more information on palliative care including finding palliative care in your area

Unpleasant Conversations...Hospice and Palliative Care, a caregiver describes the challenges she faced discussing palliative care with a loved one

Hospice 101, a guide to getting the most out of hospice care when the time comes

The Pros and Cons of Hospice Care

This post is adapted for Caregiving.com from “The Benefits of Palliative Care” that originally appeared on Zaggo’s website. 

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