Palliative Care FAQ

Nurse Practitioner Michele Poole with patient

What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is relief from the pain, symptoms and distress of serious illness. It's goal is two-fold: to ensure the highest function and quality of life possible; and to organize support for patients and families so they can achieve their goals. Palliative care is appropriate at any stage of an illness that may limit life, and can be offered alongside treatments intended to cure.

Who provides palliative care and what do they do?

Palliative care is provided by interdisciplinary teams of physicians, nurses, social workers, spiritual care providers and other professionals with expertise in giving the support needed to navigate life-limiting illness. Palliative care teams often work closely with a patient's primary physicians to assist with:
  • Pain and physical symptom management
  • Clear communication with the patient and family
  • Difficult or complex treatment decisions
  • Managing care transitions
  • Detailed and practical help at all stages of care
  • Emotional and spiritual support for the patient and family

Who receives palliative care?

Palliative care can be provided to any patient and family living with a serious illness like cancer, heart failure, emphysema, dementia, advanced kidney or liver disease, neurologic conditions like Parkinson's disease or ALS, and many others. Key indications for palliative care involvement include, but are not limited to:
  • Uncontrolled pain, physical or emotional symptoms related to serious illness
  • Declining function and capacity to provide activities of daily living
  • Progressive weight loss
  • Multiple hospitalizations
  • Uncertainty regarding prognosis
  • Uncertainty or conflict regarding goals of care
  • DNR conflict
  • Use of tube feeding or TPN for patients with cognitive impairment or advanced illness
  • Family or provider questions about appropriateness for hospice care
  • Caregiver or family distress; need for resources

When is palliative care provided?

Palliative care can be integrated at any stage of an illness that may limit life. It can be offered in acute care hospitals, assisted living facilities, nursing homes and a variety of outpatient settings.

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What is the difference between palliative care and hospice?

Hospice always provides palliative care, but focuses on terminally ill patients no longer seeking curative therapies, and expects that patients will have six months or less to live. Palliative care can be provided alongside curative care and can be initiated at any point, even at time of diagnosis.

How can I learn more about palliative care?

Palliative care programs are growing nationwide and are present in more than 2,000 acute care hospitals. In addition, Palliative Medicine has been granted official subspecialty status by the American Board of Medical Specialties and fellowship training has been recognized by the Accreditation Council of Graduate Medical Education.