In Cora and Terry Kreachbaum's story, as her cancer spreads, palliative care improves the quality of life for both patient and caregiver, easing pain and anxiety. What is palliative care and how is it different from end of life care called hospice?
Palliative care is a relatively new medical specialty that focuses on alleviating suffering and improving overall well-being for chronically or terminally ill people. Whether a patient is being treated for cancer for the first time or has endured years of discomfort and pain with chronic illnesses such as lung disease, multiple sclerosis or HIV/AIDS, Palliative care can make a positive meaningful difference.
To address the various issues that come up when a person is seriously ill, palliative care is usually provided by a "team" that can include several doctors, nurses, psychologists or a spiritual counselor working together to help the patient. Ideally, all work in concert and communication with each other, the patient and the family, to improve the quality of life for the loved one.
"Palliative care is a matter of managing your pain and any of the symptoms that come along with that," says clinical bioethicist and hospital consultant Viki Kind. It can also address emotional, psychological or "spiritual suffering" says Kind, "all the things that people go through when they are facing difficult parts of their life because of their health.
Another benefit of palliative care is assistance navigating the sometimes bureaucratic systems of hospitals. It also appears there is an upside for medical centers; this type of team-care approach appears to be cost effective in many cases. According to the Center of Advance Palliative Care, about 59% of medium to large hospitals in the U.S. now offer palliative care to their patients and the number is growing.
There is often confusion about the difference between palliative care and hospice. Hospice care concerns death and dying when medical intervention is no longer possible or meaningful for a patient. The focus of palliative care is on alleviating suffering that can go on for months and years. Hospice, or end of life care, however, can include palliative care if there is suffering as the patient nears death.
Most health insurance companies cover hospice and palliative care. Hospice care is also available free of charge in many communities.
To find out if palliative care is appropriate for you or a loved one, or to find a resource near you, have a conversation with your healthcare provider.Your Turn to Care has provided additional resources below that may answer more of your questions.