Palliative care is an approach to care that focuses on improving the quality of life for patients and their caregivers coping with a life-threatening illness or injury. Palliative care centers on preventing, diagnosing, and treating physical, emotional, social and spiritual sources of distress. It is important to know that although hospice is a form of palliative care, palliative care is not hospice. While hospice is designed to meet the needs of patients at the end-of-life, palliative care may be given at any time during an illness or injury, from the point of diagnosis onwards.
- Uses the expertise of a multidisciplinary team (physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains) to comprehensively address the needs of a patient
- Provides support to help patients live as actively as possible
- Incorporates emotional and spiritual support into patient care
- Provides a support system to help the family cope during the patient’s illness or injury
- Can be incorporated early in treatment, as well as during the end of life
- Is not prognosis or diagnosis dependent
- Is attuned to providing care that is aligned with the patient’s values and goals
Patients can receive palliative care services through different ways. Learn about the different types of palliative care below.
- Frontline Healthcare Providers and Specialists
- Palliative Care Centers
- Community-based Programs
- Home-based/Hospice Care
Frontline Healthcare Providers and Specialists
When diagnosed with a serious, life-threatening illness, patients are encouraged to speak with their healthcare provider about their illness or injury and what to expect. For patients experiencing distressing symptoms, healthcare providers should discuss the benefits of incorporating palliative care along with their treatment. All providers who care for patients with serious, life-threatening illness or injury should have the skills to provide basic, primary palliative care.
Patients need quality pain and symptom management while they pursue treatment for their serious illness or injury. This helps maximize function, independence and quality of life for as long as possible.
By taking advantage of palliative care early, patients achieve better quality of care and decrease the need for crisis care in the future.
Though early use of palliative care can improve quality of life, if illness or injury progresses and symptoms become more difficult to manage, patients may need to speak with an expert or seek specialist-level palliative care services. Specialist-level palliative care can be integrated along with treatment and in close collaboration with the patient’s primary team of regular providers. Typically, a palliative care team includes a doctor, an advanced practice nurse, a social worker and a chaplain, all with specialty training in palliative care.
Palliative Care Centers
Palliative Care Centers refer to centers where specialist knowledge about palliative care is practiced, researched, and taught.
In this delivery method, palliative care is delivered by specialized teams with expertise in advanced pain and symptom management. They work with the patient’s primary care team to align treatment options with the patient’s goals of care, and to help create care plans that ensure safe discharge and minimize the risk of readmission.
With this approach, depending on the preferences of the referring doctor, the palliative care team either provides guidance as consultants to the patient’s primary team, or in some cases assumes primary oversight of the patient’s care.
Community-based palliative care can include a variety of care models designed to meet the needs of seriously ill patients outside of the hospital setting. It can be delivered at home, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, outpatient clinics, and medical offices.
Hospice care is palliative care specifically designed for the last 6 months of life. Quality, compassionate care for people facing a life-limiting illness or injury is the hallmark of hospice care. Hospice care involves a team-oriented approach to expert medical care, pain and symptom management, and emotional and spiritual support tailored to the person’s specific needs and wishes. Care and support is also provided to the person’s loved ones during the illness, and in the bereavement period.
Whenever possible, people who choose hospice care continue to live in the comfort of their own homes in the care of those who know and love them best. However for those whose needs cannot be met at home, hospice care is provided in assisted living, nursing, hospital, and in-patient hospice facilities. Hospice is patient/family-centered and promote comfort and quality of life rather than curative treatment when the life expectancy of a patient is considered to be 6 months or less.