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A Palliative Approach: Easing the Burden

Most of us a familiar with hospice care.  Hospice focuses on supporting patients with a life expectancy measured in weeks or months, not years.  It is a team based approach that provides medical care, pain management and emotional and spiritual support, most often in a patient’s own home.  It is built around caring rather than curing.

Palliative care is different from hospice care in that it is available any time one is coping with a life-threatening or serious illness, not just at the end of life.  And anyone can benefit from palliative care, to treat and manage the symptoms of a serious disease or to lessen or ease the side effects of treatment.  It can be provided during the entire course of an illness, on an out-patient basis or in a hospital setting or nursing home.  Palliative care can also help you or a loved one coordinate medical care or learn more about a particular illness.

If you are interested in working with a palliative care specialist, for yourself or a loved one, ask your doctor for a referral.  A care specialist will work with your (or your loved one’s) primary care physician and other professionals to set up a treatment plan that relieves pain and discomfort, manages the symptoms and stress of a serious or chronic illness and also takes into account the psychological and spiritual aspects of coping with a serious illness or injury – for all parties involved.  The treatment plan design also considers the importance of maintaining a patient’s dignity and quality of life.

Here is a summary of what a palliative care team offers:

  • Help navigating the health care system – no small thing!
  • Time for close communication
  • Guidance with difficult, confusing or complex treatments
  • Expert pain and symptom management
  • Emotional support for you and your family

Here are some of the questions often asked about palliative care:

  • Does my insurance pay for palliative care? Most health insurance plans cover part or all of the palliative treatment you receive in the hospital (as with other hospital and medical services).  The same is true of Medicare and Medicaid.  Medical supplies and equipment and drugs may also be covered.  The palliative care team should have a financial consultant who can help you with cost questions and payment options.
  • How do I know if palliative care is right for me? If you are suffering from pain and stress, and any other related symptoms, because of a serious illness, palliative care may be just what you need.  Serious illnesses include (but are not limited to): cardiac disease, cancer, kidney failure, respiratory disease, Alzheimer’s, ALS and MS.  The care can be used at any stage of the illness, not just the later or advanced stages.
  • Where do I get palliative care?  The care is offered in hospitals, long-term care facilities, hospices, at home – any number of places.  If you want to get the care at home, once the symptoms and pain have been brought under control, you and your doctor can organize out-patient palliative care if this is feasible.
  • I understand this approach is great for the patient.  Who else benefits? Patients and family caregivers are the special focus this care.  And your doctors and the rest of the health care team will benefit as well, knowing their patients are looked after properly, that their suffering is reduced and the quality of their lives improved.  So it’s really a win-win!
  • Does treatment to cure me have to stop if I go ahead with palliative care?  Absolutely not.  You are eligible for palliative care at any stage of your illness, no matter what the diagnosis or prognosis.
Next up, what palliative care specifically involves, along with a look at some of the terms and language of the process. 
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