Palliative care is a person-centered approach designed to make the patient feel at ease. Also known as supportive care, it can still be combined with treatments, but not at the expense of the individual’s quality of life.
The National Consensus Project on Palliative Careexplains it best: “The goal of palliative care is to prevent and relieve suffering and to support the best possible quality of life for patients and their families, regardless of the stage of the disease or the need for other therapies.”
While palliative care features a number of similarities to end-of-life care, it is far less specific—in fact, hospice care is considered a type of palliative care.
How is palliative care different from hospice care?
Hospice care is a form of palliative care that caters specifically to patients nearing the end of their lives. The focus of hospice is on death with dignity rather than curing the ailment. This is a key difference from palliative care in general, which typically emphasizes ongoing treatment so long as the treatment doesn’t interfere with the patient’s comfort.
Palliative care can start at any time, from the initial stages of the disease to later stages. Hospice, meanwhile, is a voluntary program for which patients are eligible when physicians determine they have six months or fewer to live. (Note that patients can continue to receive hospice care if they live longer than the projected six months, and have the option to stop receiving hospice if their health unexpectedly improves.)
Both palliative and hospice care involve serious medical issues and include a team approach. Basically, hospice is seen as more of a last resort—as an option when no other treatments are available, or when the patient’s suffering is so intense that no treatment will lead to a cure.
Additional details that apply specifically to hospice care:
- Hospice staff members are available 24 hours a day.
- Families, caregivers, and medical professionals recognize that in hospice, painful treatments, prolonged stays in the intensive care unit, and ambulance rides are not always desired. In many cases, caregivers and loved ones may be asked to call the hospice provider instead of 911 in an emergency situation involving the patient.
- Spirituality may be discussed in hospice care, depending on the patient and/or their family’s preferences.
- Hospice may include grief therapy and ongoing support for families, including after the patient’s death.
What are the benefits of palliative care?
The benefits of palliative care are extensive. Physicians can become board-certified in palliative care, and those who specialize in providing these services emphasize compassion, communication, and curating the healthcare experience to enhance the patient’s quality of life.
Palliative care not only helps to put patients and caregivers at ease, but it can lead to quicker patient recovery and prolonged survival rates. Another bonus: Most insurance will cover a significant portion of the patient’s palliative care costs, as will Medicare and Medicaid. If the patient—or their loved ones, for that matter—has questions about palliative care, encourage them to talk to their physician.
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