By Marilyn Lewis
Palliative relieves suffering for hospice patients and people with severe chronic illness
Medicine’s remarkable success at extending life means that more people today are living with serious illnesses. A new sub-specialty, “palliative care,” has emerged to treat the pain, side effects and stress from severe illness and to help patients have the best lives possible.
Palliative care doesn’t replace medical treatment, it builds on it. You keep your regular medical team. Palliative care teams in hospitals include doctors and nurses specially trained in palliative care along with nutritionists, pharmacists, social workers, chaplains, counselors, massage therapists and others who collaborate with your medical team. They help alleviate pain and manage side effects like nausea, insomnia, exhaustion, depression, constipation and breathing difficulties. One study found that palliative care, when started early, extended lives of patients with terminal lung cancer by three months.
Hospice and palliative care are not the same thing. “Hospice care is a form of palliative care that is given to a person when cancer therapies are no longer controlling the disease,” says Cancer.gov.
But palliative care also works for people who have chronic illnesses like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, kidney failure, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), cancer and congestive heart failure.
Decisions and Implications
Take the case of Adam Beaty. He was critically injured in a car crash in 2013. He was 27. His parents, Bellingham residents Alice and Mark Beaty, tell KUOW radio that a palliative care specialist at Adam’s hospital guided them when they had to make difficult, confusing decisions about Adam’s treatment — whether to replace his ventilator with a tracheal tube, for instance. The specialist helped them understand the implications of the decisions and what the outcomes could be.
Palliative care specialists focus a patient’s wishes and values, asking:
- What goals do you want to reach in this lifetime? Can we help you get there, and if so, how?
- What is acceptable to you in terms of your quality of life and the health care treatments you are willing to accept?
Medicare and Medicaid pay under certain circumstances, says National Institutes of Health’s Senior Health.
United Healthcare, Aetna and other insurers are embracing palliative care, partly because it cuts end-of-life hospital costs while keeping a high quality of life for patients, The Wall Street Journal writes.
Don’t wait if you have a serious illness, the National Institute of Nursing Research advises. If your doctor doesn’t discuss palliative care, ask.
Use this directory to find providers of palliative care. Your best bet for finding palliative care: a public or not-for-profit hospital. The Journal of Palliative Medicine says palliative care teams currently operate in:
- 67% of U.S. hospitals with 50 or more total beds.
- 90% of U.S. hospitals with 300 or more beds.
- 56% of U.S. hospitals with fewer than 300 beds.
See how your state ranks for palliative care.
Take a quiz to see if palliative care is right for you.
Talk with your doctor about your illness, treatment and palliative care.
Learn how palliative care helps with 20 different diseases, from ALS to stroke.
WebMD’s palliative care center has more resources.