Understanding The Role Of Palliative Care

Most Americans are familiar with hospice care; many of us have experienced hospice care firsthand during a loved one's terminal illness. While the end-of-life care provided by hospice is invaluable to patients and families, many people are not familiar with the term "palliative care" or how this type of care can help those with a serious, debilitating or chronic illness. Here is why this specialized medical care can be important for you or your loved one.

What Is Palliative Care?
Palliative care focuses on managing or alleviating symptoms to maximize quality of life. Patients can receive palliative care concurrently with curative therapy, at any point in the course of an illness, from diagnosis onward.

The goal of palliative care is to:

  • Improve quality of life
  • Provide relief from pain and other debilitating symptoms
  • Allow you to continue treatment through curative therapies
  • Incorporate the psychological and spiritual aspects of a care plan
  • Provide a support system for the patient and their family
  • Help you anticipate future healthcare needs and make sense of treatment options
  • Allow the patient to receive care at home if they desire

Understanding Your Options
We spoke with Cathy Hamel, the President of Maryland-based Gilchrist, which is a nationally recognized, nonprofit leader in serious illness and end-of-life care. Cathy expressed the importance of understanding the resources available for both patients and caregivers.

"When we think about hospice care, we usually think about terminal illness," Cathy explained, "But hospice care is about more than dying." Cathy emphasized the importance of palliative care-and why both patients and caregivers should familiarize themselves with this service. "Palliative care is about providing medical care, emotional and social support, and education for those with serious illness and their families. Cathy explained that palliative care specialists take time to understand the patient's goals of care and help facilitate discussions about care options with family members and the healthcare team. They can also be a resource for families and decision-makers throughout the process and can help families navigate the process of determining the patient's wishes if these discussions have not been had in advance and no medical directives are in place.

Planning for the unexpected can be difficult. It can, however, provide great relief to you and your family in the event of a serious medical issue. "There is something truly powerful about being organized in this process," states Cathy Hamel. "Whether you receive palliative care that can provide comfort after a diagnosis or enter hospice care at the end of your life, there is something wonderful about being intentional and planning for the experience."

Are you struggling to have the conversation about your long-term healthcare needs? Click here to see our article, Starting a Dialogue, which talks about initiating the conversation with your loved ones about your wishes or speak to your primary care physician to get started.