Palliative Care: Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know if
palliative care is right for me?
Palliative care may be right for you if you are experiencing pain, stress and
other symptoms due to a serious illness. Serious illnesses include but are not
limited to: cancer, cardiac disease, respiratory disease, kidney failure,
Alzheimer's, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and multiple sclerosis.
Palliative care is appropriate at any stage of a serious illness and you can
get it along with treatment meant to cure you.
What is the
difference between hospice and palliative care?
Palliative care is for anyone with a serious illness. You can have it at
any age and any stage of an illness, and you can have it along with curative
treatment. It is not dependent on prognosis. Hospice is an important Medicare
benefit that provides palliative care for terminally ill patients who may have
only months to live. People who receive hospice are also no longer receiving
curative treatment for their underlying disease.
What does palliative
Pain and symptom control: Our palliative care team will
identify your sources of pain and discomfort. These may include problems with
breathing, fatigue, depression, insomnia, or bowel or bladder. Then the team
will provide treatments that can offer relief. These might include medication,
along with massage therapy or relaxation techniques.
Communication and coordination: Our palliative care teams
are extremely good communicators. We put great importance on communication
between you, your family and caregivers and your personal team of healthcare
professionals in order to ensure that all of your needs are fully met. Among
other things, we will establish your goals of care, help with decision-making
and aid in the coordination of care.
Emotional support: Palliative care focuses on the entire
person, not just the illness. The team members caring for you will address any
social, psychological, emotional or spiritual needs you may have.
Family/caregiver support: Caregivers bear a great deal of
stress too, so our palliative care team supports them as well. This focused
attention helps ease some of the strain and can help you with your decision
What can I expect?
You can expect to have more control over your care and a comfortable and
supportive atmosphere that reduces anxiety and stress. Your plan of care is
reviewed each day by the palliative care team and discussed with you to make
sure your needs and wishes are being met and that your treatments are in line
with your goals. You can also expect relief from symptoms such as pain,
shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite and
difficulty sleeping. Palliative care addresses the whole person. It helps you
carry on with your daily life. It improves your ability to go through medical
treatments. And it helps you better understand your condition and your choices
for medical care. In short, you can expect the best possible quality of life
with palliative care.
Will my insurance
cover palliative care?
Most insurance plans cover all or part of the palliative care treatment you
receive, just as with other hospital and medical services. This is also true of
Medicare and Medicaid. If costs concern you, a social worker from your
palliative care team can help you with payment options.
Do I have to give up
my own doctor?
The palliative care team provides an extra layer of support and works in
partnership with your primary doctor. Your primary doctor will continue to
direct your care and play an active role in your treatment.
Can I have curative
treatment together with palliative care?
Absolutely. Your treatment choices are up to you. You can get palliative
care at the same time as treatment meant to cure you.
Who else, besides the
patient, can benefit?
Everyone involved! Patients as well as family and caregivers are the
special focus of palliative care. Your doctors and nurses benefit too, because
they know they are meeting your needs by providing care and treatment that
reduces your suffering and improves your quality of life.
Who will provide my
Palliative care specialists include doctors, nurses, social workers, a
chaplain, massage therapists, bedside yoga instructors, creative art
therapists, and doulas.
Can I get palliative
care if I am at home?
Yes. Before you are discharged from the hospital, you, your doctor and the
palliative care team will have discussed outpatient palliative care options
that are best for your needs and goals of care.
Used with permission from Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai