5 things you should know about palliative care
You may have heard the term “palliative care” used recently in stories about health care. There is a good reason for that. Palliative care is increasingly recognized as a vital part of responsive health care, especially for those with serious or chronic diseases. But what is palliative care? Here are five things you should know.
- Palliative care is a medical specialty that focuses on helping people manage serious or chronic diseases. When dealing with an illness, patients often experience a number of stressors. They may worry about their symptoms and how they can affect their ability to enjoy life. They worry about how their condition is affecting their loved ones. At times, patients with serious disease feel that their lives are out of control. Palliative care is designed to help. It addresses pain, stress and other symptoms and provides an extra layer of support for patients at any point in their illness.
- Palliative care is provided by a team of experts. The team usually includes a physician who is board-certified in palliative medicine, advanced practice nurses, a social worker and, often, a chaplain. Other services are provided according to the patient’s needs.
- Palliative care helps patients in many ways. The palliative care team will work with the patient to develop a care plan focused on their needs and goals. They provide help with symptom management and with ways to cope with medical treatments. They listen to patients’ concerns, take time to explain things and answer questions, and suggest ways to reduce stress and anxiety. Importantly, the palliative care team will help give patients more control over what is happening to them.
- Palliative care is provided in a number of settings. Patients might be referred for palliative care services while they are still in the hospital. Many patients see their palliative care team in outpatient clinic settings—during the appointments the team members will review the patient’s care goals and determine if additional services might be needed. And, if it is difficult for patients to leave their homes for appointments, there is home-based palliative care.
- Palliative care is NOT hospice care. Though some patients—those suffering from life-limiting conditions—may eventually transition to hospice care, the majority of patients receiving palliative care are still actively treating their disease. Unlike hospice care, palliative care is often provided at the same time as curative treatment.
About the Author
Amy Scheu, MSH, CHPCA, is the vice president of hospice and palliative care for Advocate Health Care.