‘Palliative’ means to lessen or relieve and refers to a type of care that has comfort rather than cure as its goal. Palliative care is focused on making the patient more comfortable by managing their symptoms instead of attempting to treat or cure the underlying disease.

Common symptoms treated by palliative care include pain, nausea, or difficulty breathing. Treatment includes medications to alleviate pain or nausea and supplemental oxygen for patients with COPD or other disorders that affect oxygen intake. Palliative care also addresses emotional issues such as anxiety, depression, etc. that are often part of dealing with a serious illness.

Palliative Care for Nonterminal Diseases and Conditions

Many larger hospice organizations offer non-hospice palliative care for serious, nonterminal diseases and conditions for the purpose of improving quality of life for the patient and their family. In addition, many medical centers have a palliative care team that works with a patient’s doctor to ease physical discomfort and stress in patients with serious disease. A patient’s physician may request palliative care services for difficult-to-control symptoms, general discomfort related to an illness, or side effects of ongoing treatment for that illness.

Palliative care teams typically comprise a doctor, nurse, and social worker who specialize in palliative care. Massage therapists, pharmacists, nutritionists, chaplains, and others may also be part of the team.

Individuals who are candidates for non-hospice palliative care may be undergoing aggressive treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, or receiving treatment for illnesses such as heart or kidney failure and are not deemed to be candidates for hospice care. Non-hospice palliative care can be provided to patients of any age and at any stage of a serious illness, beginning from the time of the initial diagnosis. Individuals may receive palliative care and aggressive care aimed at curing their illness at the same time. Palliative care is provided at an outpatient clinic or where the patient resides.

Medicare pays for the consultation with the palliative care physician, and most private health insurers will pay for needed physician services like a home visit, a visit to an outpatient clinic, or a visit in the hospital or other place of residence. The length of time a patient receives palliative care depends on the patient’s care needs and their Medicare, Medicaid, or other insurance coverage.

The components of palliative care include:

  • Collaboration with the patient’s physician to understand the nature of the care required and create a customized care plan.
  • Complex symptom management that’s tailored to the patient and incorporates a variety of treatment options.
  • Ongoing communication with the patient and their family to establish and review the goals of care.

Patients receiving palliative care report decreased pain, improvement of appetite, less anxiety, and greater clarity, which allows them to make the best decisions about their quality of life.

End-of Life Palliative Care

Palliative care is a vital part of hospice care. It focuses on comfort and quality of life by addressing not only physical issues such as pain but emotional issues such as anxiety and depression. Hospice nurses and doctors have available the latest medications and devices for treating pain and alleviating symptoms. In addition, physical and occupational therapists can enhance a patient’s self-sufficiency and ability to maintain their activities of daily living.