What is Palliative Care?

Learn about this invaluable resource before you need it!

Most adults will suffer from a serious, life-limiting illness in their lifetime. However, despite the prevalence of these illnesses, over 70 percent of the US population knows little to nothing about palliative care services[i].

Palliative care is specialized, holistic care for people living with serious illness. Unlike traditional medical care, palliative care as a philosophy does not aim to cure illness. Instead, it focuses on the patient’s quality of life.

Traditional medical care is hyper-focused on treating an illness. With some illnesses, such as cancer, treatment methods can be uncomfortable, painful or even traumatic. The goal of traditional medicine is, first and foremost, to preserve life, sometimes at the expense of the patient’s comfort.

In contrast, a palliative care team’s focus is quality of life and patient comfort. Palliative care does not seek to treat an illness, but it can be provided in combination with curative treatment. For example, a cancer patient receiving chemotherapy might choose to add palliative care to their treatment plan. The chemotherapy is meant to treat their cancer, while the palliative care is meant to alleviate distressing symptoms from both the cancer and the chemotherapy itself.

The palliative care team assists in improving quality of life by establishing “goals of care.” To do this, they find out what is most important for each individual patient. Perhaps the patient wants to remain mobile for as long as possible, or maybe they want to be able to comfortably sit and watch their favorite TV show. Whatever matters most to each patient’s individual definition of a “good life” will become the driving force behind their palliative care treatment plan.

In addition to nurses and a doctor, the palliative care interdisciplinary team also includes a social worker to help the patient and family cope with emotional or mental distress. The palliative care team can also assist the patient in creating advance directives so that their medical wishes are well-established.

Some people are afraid of palliative care because they associate it with hospice care and death. However, unlike hospice care, an illness does not have to be terminal for a patient to receive palliative care. Anyone suffering from a serious, life-limiting illness may be eligible for palliative care services. Palliative care becomes an option when a patient is diagnosed with a serious illness and can be provided continuously until it is no longer needed or until the patient enters hospice care.

Palliative care can be given anywhere: in the patient’s home, a hospital or an assisted living facility. It is covered by Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurances.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a serious illness, contact Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro for more information about palliative care.

[i] Awareness and Misperceptions of Hospice and Palliative Care: A Population-Based Survey Study.
Am J Hosp Palliat Care. 2018 Mar;35(3):431-439. doi: 10.1177/1049909117715215. Epub 2017 Jun 20.