Palliative Care


considering the Whole Person


Palliative care addresses Our physical, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual needs

Palliative care is a comprehensive support system to help patients relieve their symptoms of illness, side effects of treatment and to live as actively and comfortably as they can. Palliative care is care that is delivered by an interdisciplinary team of experts including physicians, nurses, pharmacists, social workers and chaplains, across the continuum of care (from diagnosis to end of life) in order to help those with serious or chronic illness manage their discomfort and experience higher quality of life. Palliative care providers seek out the spiritual and emotional components of the individual and the family, trying to understand who the authentic human being with the disease really is and what matters most to them. At the same time, palliative care helps loved ones cope with their fear, stress and bereavement.

Benefits of palliative care include:

  • Helping people of any age and at any stage of illness – whether it be curable, chronic or life threatening

  • Helping the medical team understand the patient’s wishes, challenges and priorities

  • Helping the patient develop an Advance Directive

  • Managing pain

  • Reducing negative side effects of treatment

  • Building strong communications between the patient/family and the health care team

  • Helping the patient/family make decisions about transitions in care

  • Gaining emotional support

  • Gaining spiritual support which aligns with the patient’s belief system

Since treating patients and families within the construct of what is truly important is the goal of palliative care, then a basic requirement of both palliative care providers and the families they treat is communication. Listening, being honest and taking the time to address the multi-dimensional aspects of patient care when either we or a loved one is seriously ill, includes viewing each of us as whole people and requires an interdisciplinary palliative care team of physicians, nursing, social work, chaplaincy and other support team members. If we think the team is deficient in some area, we must be willing to step up and request additional assistance.

In-depth conversations between our providers and ourselves are critical in order to understand and prepare for what is to come and to communicate our wishes about what is most important. It is a way in which we can consider how health care professionals can enable our overall well-being. Some concerns are universal, yet we must be willing to share our priorities, goals, preferences, fears, values, beliefs and culture, sometimes even without anyone asking. We need to be prepared and non-judgmental as the path progresses understanding that our concerns and goals are likely to evolve, tempered by our continued medical experiences and our response to them.

People often ask, “What is the difference between palliative care and hospice care?” While both palliative care and hospice are focused on providing the patient with comfort, palliative care can begin when the patient is first diagnosed and while they undergo treatment, whereas hospice care is typically provided when it is clear the patient  has a life expectancy of six months or less. Many people mistakenly delay requesting palliative care assistance or hospice care because they see it as a sign of giving up, rather than as an effective treatment option.

Palliative care is often available in hospitals, outpatient clinics, long term care facility and at home. Medicare, Medicaid and most insurance plans cover all or part of palliative care. There is no reduction in treatment options with the commencement of palliative care as there is for Medicare patients who choose hospice care. As always, discuss specific details with your health care provider. 

For more information on palliative care visit the link to connect with a national organization dedicated to increasing the availability of quality services for people facing serious, complex illness. The site provides information about options for medical care throughout our lifespan.