Serious illnesses and health conditions can impact every area of a patient’s life. From debilitating physical symptoms to detrimental spiritual and emotional effects, patients who receive a potentially life-threatening diagnosis often require specialized care to improve their quality of life over the course of their illness. Palliative care is a productive approach to help patients with serious illnesses through symptom management, caregiver education, practical support with financial- and career-related challenges, and more.
What Is Palliative Care?
Sometimes referred to as “comfort care,” palliative care is a specialized approach to medical care for patients with serious and/or life-threatening illnesses. The ultimate goal of palliative care is to improve the patient’s overall quality of life by providing relief for stress, pain, and other symptoms. Palliative care also serves to provide aid to the family members and caregivers of the patient.
Through person-centered health services, the palliative care approach helps patients retain autonomy by acknowledging their individual needs and preferences. Palliative care often accompanies treatment geared toward curing an illness, especially when such treatments result in uncomfortable side effects. With a primary objective of alleviating suffering, palliative care can promote a higher quality of life for patients with serious illnesses and chronic conditions.
When Should You Consider Palliative Care?
Unlike with hospice care, patients can pursue palliative care at any point after receiving their initial diagnosis. Patients who are struggling with existing symptoms or are facing spiritual, financial, employment, or other challenges could benefit from palliative care.
Likewise, patients, family members, and caregivers who anticipate experiencing difficulties in managing the illness alone might consider palliative care at any point; doing so early could provide education and resources that might otherwise be inaccessible, and pursuing palliative care later on during the patient’s battle can alleviate stress and symptoms alike. At any point during a patient’s illness, palliative care can be available; the condition does not need to be immediately life-threatening or pose a limited prognosis, as palliative care simply aims to help patients with serious conditions, as well as their families and caregivers, cope and live comfortably.
Palliative care can be beneficial for most patients with a serious illness, but some of the most common conditions that benefit from palliative care include:
- Heart disease
- Chronic respiratory diseases
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
A patient with any serious condition or illness may benefit from palliative care. It is possible to receive curative treatments and therapies while undergoing palliative care, if desired, and palliative care can help patients achieve specific goals of pain or symptom relief, peace of mind, and more individualized care.
Who Typically Provides Palliative Care?
Patients usually receive palliative care from a team of specialists. These teams tend to include medical professionals such as physicians, nurses, and pharmacists to provide specialized, personalized medical care. Additionally, these teams might feature social workers, dieticians, therapists, counselors, and spiritual care coordinators. The exact composition of a palliative care team may vary depending on the individual needs of a patient.
In most cases, palliative care will be covered by insurance providers including Medicare and Medicaid.
How Does Palliative Care Help Patients?
Patients and their families stand to benefit immensely from palliative care at any stage of illness. By prioritizing the alleviation of uncomfortable or debilitating symptoms, patients can live more freely and comfortably while undergoing treatment. Common symptoms that palliative care teams typically target include:
- Shortness of breath
Managing these symptoms can improve patients’ quality of life and grant them additional autonomy, independence, and comfort as they go about their days.
Pursuing palliative care also encourages collaboration between palliative care teams and patients’ existing healthcare providers. These specialized teams do not replace patients’ other doctors but instead add extra support and expertise where it is needed most. What this means is that patients who receive palliative care have a strong network of professionals working toward a common goal on their behalf, providing better support and care at every level.
A palliative care team is also dedicated to understanding their patients, abiding by their wishes, and meeting their care goals. By actively prioritizing patients’ desires and preferences, palliative care providers can ensure that patients receive care that is aligned with what they want, giving patients more control over their lives.
Palliative care also offers long-term financial benefits; widespread adoption of palliative care programs results in lower readmission rates as well as reduced emergency room visits. This means medical facilities are able to provide better care to patients who need personalized attention and patients are able to save money by avoiding unnecessary medical costs.
Palliative care takes a whole-person approach to healthcare that aims to improve patients’ quality of life through services like pain management while also encouraging continued curative treatments.
When receiving palliative care, patients can rest easy knowing that their team is dedicated to providing treatment, resources, guidance, and more to help them reach their care goals and live comfortably during such a challenging period of their lives. Individuals who have received a serious or life-threatening diagnosis may benefit from palliative care to mitigate detrimental side effects or symptoms and obtain a higher quality of life while undergoing treatment and living with their conditions.