Published on October 24, 2018

What to know about palliative care

Ira SmithIt’s easy to get the wrong idea about palliative care—a service that improves the quality of people’s lives when they’re diagnosed with a chronic, serious illness.

“Palliative care is not the same as hospice,” says Ira Smith, MD, Medical Director for Palliative Care.

Relief from pain or other symptoms is, indeed, a big part of what palliative care can offer you or a loved one who has a condition such as cancer, COPD, kidney disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or heart disease.

But unlike hospice, you do not have to be at the end of your life to receive palliative care. In fact, you can continue to receive aggressive treatments meant to cure your disease while you get treatments that help you feel better.

Palliative care can help people live their lives and continue with daily activities. It may even make it easier for people to finish challenging treatments, such as chemotherapy.

What’s involved?

palliative carePalliative care currently starts in the hospital. Patients receive support and a treatment plan that can be continued once the patient goes home. The palliative care plan provides for relief of such symptoms as: pain, nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, fatigue, insomnia, severe itching (a symptom of kidney failure), and stress and anxiety.

“But we don’t just treat the physical symptoms of an illness,” Dr. Smith says. “We also connect our patients with resources to help them with emotional and spiritual concerns they may be having.”

That’s because palliative care is provided by a team. The doctors and nurses may prescribe medicines or other treatments to better control your symptoms. And they work with other experts too.

For instance, the team could put you or your loved one in touch with a chaplain or a counselor, if you want. A palliative care team can also include social workers and alternative therapy practitioners who work with your regular doctor.

In addition, the palliative care team helps people better understand goals of care. Sometimes patients and their families have difficult decisions to make about whether to continue with treatment or transition to hospice. Palliative care providers can help with those conversations.

“We can take the time to sit down and talk with families and patients and do the right things for them,” Dr. Smith says. “They will not feel rushed to make any decisions.”

Palliative care is available by physician referral. And most insurance plans cover it. If you are interested in learning more, ask your or your loved one’s doctor about this service.