Many people have heard of hospice care but they mistakenly think that it’s just a way to help cancer patients be more comfortable at the end of their lives. Fewer people have heard of palliative care, and they may have no idea what it is. The truth is that hospice and palliative care are related but used for different reasons at different times, and everyone should be well-versed in what they offer. PBCH can help clarify some points of confusion.
What is palliative care? Palliative (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) care is supportive care. It is specialized medical attention, provided by a specially trained, interdisciplinary team of medical experts to help people who have serious, often painful illnesses. The care covers management of physical and emotional pain, as well as stress relief and feelings of helplessness. The palliative care team works to provide quality of life for the patient as well as the patient’s family.
Where is palliative care provided? Since palliative care can be offered alongside curative treatments such as chemotherapy, the services are available in a hospital setting, a clinic, a care facility or in the comfort of your own home.
Who is on the palliative care team? A typical team would include a doctor trained in palliative care and, often, board-certified in Hospice and Palliative Medicine. Additionally, the team generally includes a palliative care nurse, a social worker, a chaplain or someone who can help with spiritual support if the patient requests it, plus a patient navigator or someone who can coordinate the process. PBCH and NANA work collaboratively with MidState Health Center’s Provider: Dr. Diane Arsenault, MD, FAAFP, HPM, HMDC.
When does palliative care start and who qualifies? Palliative care can be provided as soon as a diagnosis is made and any time throughout an illness. It’s probably best known for cancer patients, but people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, or other illnesses that cause chronic pain or discomfort can also qualify. The focus of palliative care is to provide relief from the symptoms of the disease and even the treatment side effects, as well as help with emotional and spiritual issues. Palliative care is not curative but can be used alongside curative methods such as chemotherapy.
So, what is hospice care? Hospice care is also supportive comfort care. The focus is to provide physical, emotional, and spiritual comfort to people who are in a terminal condition, as well as for the family. The main difference with palliative care is that with hospice care, curative treatment is stopped. Through hospice, people who choose to end treatment that has perhaps stopped being helpful and often adds pain to their existence, can then navigate the end of their lives in a pain-free, dignified manner.
What hospice is not– Many people, including some doctors, will say, “Well, there’s nothing we can do now so you may as well go on hospice care.” That is misguided thinking. Hospice care is not giving up. Hospice is an active choice to provide people who have been diagnosed as terminal with a pain-free life for the time that they have left. They can enjoy family and friends in a setting of their choice. When the time comes, patients die naturally, with dignity, and with loved ones by their side if they choose.
Don’t wait too long to go on hospice– Many people actually improve once they are on hospice care because of the support they receive from the hospice team. That is why hospice workers say the most frequent comment they hear is, “We wish we hadn’t waited so long.” The misconception that going on hospice means giving up is the reason why so many families wait until the last weeks of a patient’s life to obtain help when they could have had several months of care.
People often live longer when receiving supportive comfort care. Researchers have found that people diagnosed with cancer who receive palliative and hospice care often live longer. Most choose to spend more time with family and friends. Some travel. Many plan the funeral or life celebration that matches their specific wishes. Palliative and hospice care allow each person to live the best life possible until their health takes them close to the end of their lives. When that time comes, people die comfortably and with dignity.