Palliative Care

Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses and chronic diseases, such as cancer, heart and lung disease, kidney failure, Alzheimer's, and other long-term health problems. The goal of palliative care is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the patient's caregivers by reducing stress and managing pain and symptoms. Palliative care is provided by a specially-trained team of healthcare providers who work together with a patient's other doctors to provide an extra layer of support.

Palliative care can be started early when someone has a new diagnosis, such as cancer or another serious illness. It can also be started later in the progression of disease. The goal is to improve the quality of the patient's everyday life. Palliative care also provides support and resources to a patient's primary caregivers.

Palliative care is:

  • For people of all ages, from children to seniors
  • Available at any stage of a serious illness
  • Provided along with curative treatments
  • Covered by most health insurers
  • Caring for the patient as a whole person
  • Coordinated care among all of a patient's healthcare providers

How does Palliative Care Improve Quality of Life?

Palliative care:

  • Focuses on controlling symptoms, such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and depression
  • Helps people gain the strength to carry on with daily life
  • Provides emotional, practical, social, and spiritual support
  • Improves the patient's ability to tolerate medical treatments
  • Provides support for caregivers
  • Gives patients more control over their care
  • Helps patients understand their disease and treatment options

Who Provides Palliative Care?

Palliative care is a team approach. The core team can include primary care providers, other specialists, palliative care doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, and social workers or behevioral health providers who are palliative care specialists. Integrative care therapists, physical and occupational therapists, pharmacists, nutritionists, spiritual care providers, and others may also be part of a palliative care team.

What you should do

Healthcare providers

Healthcare providers should help patients find palliative care specialists when palliative care might help them manage debilitating symptoms of chronic disease. Palliative care is a subspecialty reimbursable by most insurers. A palliative care specialist will help patients better manage their symptoms to improve their quality of life. The palliative care specialist is an addition to a patient's existing care team-other healthcare providers still remain involved in their current roles.

Palliative care is not just for people with terminal illnesses, but also for people with complex chronic conditions.

Patients, Families, and Caregivers

To explore palliative care, ask the treating doctor for a referral. Palliative care is available at:

  • Most hospitals
  • Most cancer centers
  • Some visiting nurse and home health agencies
  • Many nursing homes
  • Some doctors' offices
  • Hospice providers