What is Palliative Care?

Posted on

Jan 27, 2016

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While hospice care for people who are nearing the end of life is fairly well known, palliative care remains a mystery. Because palliative care is one of the fastest growing areas of service in the healthcare spectrum, it is important to understand what it involves.
Palliative care is derived from the term palliation, which Dictionary.com defines as to relieve or lessen without curing; (to) mitigate; (to) alleviate. While the relief provided by a palliative care team is often pain related, other symptoms such as labored breathing, nausea, anxiety or bleeding can be the presenting problem. The goal is to provide comfort, support and practical assistance in finding needed services for those with chronic illnesses, frail health or post-surgical problems that are not yet end-of-life issues. The most common conditions seen in palliative care are cancer, COPD and congestive heart failure.
Hospice always includes palliative care, but palliative care does not always include hospice, because the patient does not have to be near death to receive palliative services. Palliative care teams emerged first in hospitals, but more recently, services are being provided in private homes, clinics and long term care facilities in an effort to provide comfort while keeping people out of emergency rooms and hospital beds. The palliative care team usually includes a doctor, nurse and social worker, although in recent years, Navigators have been added, to help patients navigate the maze of healthcare services in the community.
Unfortunately, palliative care is not well supported by private insurance or government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Because of the lack of reimbursement, most hospices cant afford to provide non-hospice palliative care services, so many patients are left to live with their symptoms until they reach hospice-eligible status - meaning six or less months to live. Medicare is beginning to embrace the inherent value of palliative care, recognizing the need for services during the gap that exists between hospitalization and hospice. Older patients in particular leave the hospital and become depressed, confused or ineffective in managing their own medications, only to escalate back to the hospital, or on to hospice.
The frail elderly and those with chronic health conditions should contact their family doctor for a referral to a palliative care provider. A determination of eligibility can be provided quickly, and the care team works in conjunction with the patients personal physician to assure a coordinated approach to symptom management.

Editors Note: This article was submitted by Gary Morse. Gary is President and Chief Executive Officer with Sangre de Cristo Hospice & Palliative Care and may be reached at 719-542-0032 or by email at gary.morse@socohospice.org

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