What Is Palliative Care?

PALLIATIVE CARE IS TAILORED TO THE PATIENT WANTING TO CONTINUE MEDICAL TREATMENT, with the aim of prolonging the quality and length of life. Hospice is for those who wish to concentrate on their comfort and dignity during their end-of-life journey. GETTY IMAGES

Often, when we hear the term palliative care, we immediately think of hospice and end-of-life care. Although palliative and hospice care share some similarities, they are distinctly different.

Both use a team approach and are focused on a person’s physical, mental, social and spiritual wellbeing. However, palliative care is tailored to the patient wanting to continue medical treatment, with the aim of prolonging the quality and length of life. Hospice is for those who wish to concentrate on their comfort and dignity during their end-of-life journey.

Palliative care is specialized medical care for people of any age with a serious illness, such as cancer, chronic lung disease, heart failure, neurologic diseases, kidney or liver failure, and even COVID-19. The palliative care team, composed of a physician, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, nurse and social worker, works in partnership with your physicians to provide an extra layer of support for you and your family.

The team provides expert symptom management as well as extra time for communication about your goals and treatment options. Aligning your medical plan to your goals helps not only you and your physicians but also your loved ones to understand what is most important to you, including your quality of life.

You can expect relief from symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping. Palliative care helps you carry on with your daily life and improves your ability to go through medical treatments. It helps you better understand your condition and your choices for medical care.

Palliative care also supports discussions regarding advance directives. Some have a very difficult time talking about the “what if’s” and who will speak for them medically if they cannot speak for themselves. The thought of the conversation can be daunting to many and one that is put off for a rainy day. However, being able to speak with an expert in the subject and prepare for that rainy day can bring great peace of mind to you and your family. 

Advance directives include appointing a medical power of attorney, someone who makes medical decisions for you if you are not able to make them yourself. It also includes talking about the level of medical treatment you find acceptable, which includes resuscitation. Sharing this information with your loved ones helps empower you and your family to make the best informed choices about your medical care.

Palliative care can be provided in a variety of settings including the hospital, outpatient clinic and at home or virtually. Most insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover palliative care.

Living with a serious and or chronic illness can be very difficult. Palliative care can help. Just ask your physician for a referral. Having more support and symptom management can greatly benefit your quality of life.

Lisa Rasmussen is a nurse in Lutheran’s palliative care program.

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