The term palliative care is often misunderstood, which leads to confusion among patients, their families and medical providers. By no fault of their own – and usually the result of not having direct experience with it – many people don’t understand the difference between palliative care and hospice, and are under the mistaken perception that they are one in the same.
According to Judy Thomas, CEO of the Coalition for Compassionate Care of California (an advocate for palliative care and hospice services.), “The field itself hasn’t yet defined who should get it, what it is, and who provides it.” As a result, there are patients that either aren’t aware of the palliative care services they could be receiving, or aren’t able to access it affordably.
Defining Palliative Care
Palliative care refers to a specialized type of medical care meant to provide stress and pain relief to those with a serious illness. Its ultimate purpose is to help improve the patient’s quality of life, as well as that of his or her family.
Palliative care requires specialty doctors, nurses and other medical providers, along with a patient’s regular doctors. They all work together to provide the best possible treatment and care for the patient. Palliative care can be provided at any age, and during any stage of a serious illness.
While palliative care and hospice are similar in that they both provide comfort to a patient, it is important to understand the difference between the two. The main difference lies in that palliative care can begin as early as the time of diagnosis, and can be offered at the same time as treatment is being delivered. Hospice care, on the other hand, begins after treatment for the disease has stopped, and it has been determined that the patient will not survive.
Benefits of Palliative Care
Despite the vast confusion regarding its definition and purpose, the benefits of palliative care have proven to be extensive. A few of the benefits include:
1. An Improved Quality of Life
As noted in the simple definition of palliative care, the medical service has been known to significantly improve the quality of life for patients and their families. There are many additional symptoms that often occur alongside serious illnesses, such as various forms of cancer, ALS, COPD, Alzheimer’s Parkinson’s, kidney disease, and others. Palliative care can help with the pain, fatigue, gastrointestinal issues, depression, sleep problems, anxiety, and many other stress-causing symptoms, so that the patient can go about their daily lives with minimal symptoms of distress.
2. Fewer Medical Expenses
Patients who receive palliative care can also save a lot of money on medical expenses. Because they have access to a team of regular and specialized medical providers looking out for their well-being, palliative care patients tend to have fewer hospitalizations and/or visits to the emergency room. In fact, one study of a group of homebound, terminally ill patients (having a year or less to live, and who had also had one or more hospital or emergency department visits in the past year) found that “the average cost of care for those receiving palliative care services — $95.30 per day — was less than half the cost for those without palliative care — $212.80.”
3. More Control Over Care
Because palliative care by definition involves a team of doctors working together and closely with the patient, it ensures that the patient gets the care they need and want. Specialists, nurses and other medical providers take the time to explain options for care, so the patient can make the best decisions to meet their personal goals for care.
Considering Palliative Care?
The benefits listed here are just a few of the many benefits of palliative care. If you’re looking for additional information on palliative care, and/or a list of providers in New Hampshire, visit the New Hampshire Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the only statewide organization dedicated to improving end of life care, here.