Living with a serious illness can be challenging in so many ways. You may be dealing with pain and other uncomfortable symptoms, fearful about your future or concerned about how your loved ones are coping with your illness. Palliative care can help. Palliative care is a medical specialty that has been discussed recently, often inaccurately, as part of the healthcare reform debate. The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine provided answers to the most frequently asked questions about palliative care.

What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is for people with a serious illness, whether that illness is curable, chronic or life-threatening. Palliative care prevents and alleviates suffering and helps people achieve quality of life through:

  • Pain and symptom relief
  • Guidance in making complex medical decisions
  • Emotional and spiritual support
  • Help in navigating the healthcare system

Hospice is a specific type of palliative care for people for whom a cure is no longer possible and who likely have six months or less to live.

Who Provides Palliative Care?

Palliative care is provided by doctors who are specially trained in providing palliative medicine, as well as a team of caregivers, including nurses, social workers, chaplains, physical therapists, dietitians, volunteers and others. Palliative doctors work with the patient's other doctors, who may be providing treatments to cure the illness.

Can You See Your Personal Doctor if You Receive Palliative Care?

Absolutely. Your palliative doctor coordinates care with your other doctors and helps you navigate the often-complex healthcare system.

How can a patient find palliative care?

If you are interested in palliative care, ask your personal doctor to refer you to a palliative doctor or inquire whether your local hospital has a palliative specialist.

Where is Palliative Care Available?

Palliative care is available nationwide, and can be provided in the hospital, in a patient's home or in a healthcare facility, such as a nursing home.

Does Insurance Cover Palliative Care?

Many private insurance companies and health maintenance organizations (HMOs) offer palliative care and hospice benefits. Medicare offers hospice benefits, and the extra Medicare plan (Part B) offers some palliative care benefits. Medicaid coverage of hospice and palliative care for people of limited incomes varies by state.

When Can Palliative Care Help?

Palliative care can help people of any age and at any stage in a serious illness.

Why Would Someone Need Palliative Care?

Palliative care is whole-person care. It can help patients manage the stress and burden of a serious illness and help them achieve their definition of quality of life. Palliative care can help patients cope with aggressive treatments by getting pain and side effects under control to help them fight the disease. Some studies have shown cancer patients who receive palliative care were more likely to complete chemotherapy and reported a higher quality of life than those who didn't receive palliative care.

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Source: American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine,