When the doctor first utters the words hospice or palliative care, many people freeze. No one wants to hear those words used in reference to their loved one. It’s scary and often families have no idea what this means. Instead of feeling relieved and empowered, families often feel anxious. Many people don’t actually know what palliative care is and how it can help a loved one achieve a better quality of life.

So, What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. This type of care is focused 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 their family. Care is provided by a team of nurse practitioners and social workers who work with the patient’s doctors, caregivers and family to provide an extra layer of support. Palliative care is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and can be provided along with curative treatment.

What are the Components of Palliative Care?

Symptom Management – Patients with serious illness often have symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, nausea, constipation, fatigue, depression, anxiety and difficulty sleeping. Palliative care can help manage these symptoms.

Emotional Support – Patients and families facing a serious illness often experience stress, depression and anxiety. Palliative care can provide emotional support and help with referrals to counseling, if needed.

Communication – Patients with serious illness often have many doctors and specialists who they see. Palliative care can help facilitate communication among these different specialists. Additionally the palliative care team will help with the translation of ‘medical speak’ to help patients and families understand their medical conditions and options.

Resources – Palliative care can help identify the need for specialized resources and help to get patients set up with any needed services, such as homecare, therapies and hospice if needed.

Palliative care helps patients get the best care possible and achieve the best quality of life possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Difference Between Hospice and Palliative Care?

Palliative Care: Serves individuals with chronic illness at any point in their lives.

Hospice: Serves individuals with a terminal illness and a life expectancy of 6 months or less.

Can my loved one receive aggressive treatment with the intent to cure?

Palliative Care: Yes, they can receive aggressive treatment if that is their choice.

Hospice: No, the underlying philosophy of hospice care is to provide the best quality of life consistent with the individual’s values in the last six months of a terminal illness.

How can my loved one get linked to care?

Palliative Care: Anyone can make a referral – patient, care partner, physician, case manager or social worker.

Hospice: You would need a physician order, certification of terminal illness and prognosis that your life expectancy is likely to be 6 months or less.

What is provided?

Palliative Care: Palliative care services include family support, pain and symptom management and psychosocial care. An interdisciplinary team works in conjunction with the patient’s primary care physician. Goals for care are explored and defined and advance directives are formulated. A social worker assists the palliative care provider by providing referrals for care, durable medical equipment, financial resources and other support as necessary.

Hospice: Hospice utilizes an interdisciplinary team approach to end-of-life care. Team members provide support, pain and symptom management and psychosocial care. Bereavement counseling is available to the patient’s family.

Where is care provided?

Palliative Care: Wherever the patient resides or is at the time of consult: home, hospital, skilled nursing, long term care or assisted living facility. If the patient moves to a new location, hospice care will move with the patient.

Hospice: Wherever the patient resides or is at time of service: home, hospital (in rare occurrences), long term care or assisted living facility. If the patient moves to a new location, hospice care will move with the patient.

How long can care continue?

Palliative Care: Indefinitely, as long as the patient requires support.

Hospice: As long as the patient is considered terminally ill with a continued prognosis of six months or less to live, the patient can continue to receive hospice care well beyond the initial six month period.

How is this service covered financially?

Palliative Care: Through Medicare Part B, Medicaid or private insurance.

Hospice: Through Medicare Part A, Medicaid or private insurance.

How frequently are visits made?

Palliative Care: The number of visits depends on the patient’s needs and wishes. Visits typically occur less frequently than hospice.

Hospice: While the number of weekly visits varies depending on the plan of care that the hospice team sets up, the average is 4 visits per week.

By BridgePoint Supportive Care