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what is palliative care

What is Palliative Care?

In today’s rapidly evolving healthcare landscape, the concept of palliative care remains broadly misunderstood, leading to widespread confusion among patients, their loved ones, and healthcare providers alike. We’re often asked, what is palliative care, and we know there is some misunderstanding around the subject.

This misunderstanding largely stems from a lack of direct experience with palliative care, causing many to conflate it with hospice care and assume they serve the same purpose.

What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is a specialized form of medical care designed to alleviate stress and pain for people suffering from serious illnesses. It aims to enhance the quality of life for both the patient and their family. This form of care brings together specialty doctors, nurses, other healthcare providers and a patient’s regular medical team to offer comprehensive treatment and support.

Importantly, palliative care is not limited by the patient’s age or the stage of their illness and can be provided alongside curative treatment from the moment of diagnosis.

A key distinction to understand is between palliative care and hospice care. While both focus on providing comfort, palliative care begins at the diagnosis stage and can be given concurrently with curative treatments. Hospice care is reserved for after curative treatments  cease because the patient’s condition will not improve.

Why Isn’t Palliative Care Widely Known?

Often, the palliative care discussion doesn’t happen between a primary care professional and a patient because it isn’t brought up. Doctors don’t have the time for longer conversations unrelated to the urgent medical matter that led to the visit.

While there are more palliative care teams in hospitals today than ever before, many of them don’t have dedicated staff. Instead, they are doctors and nurse practitioners that have a long list of responsibilities. Some organizations have access to a chaplain and social worker; others do not. Organizations nationwide offer grants and funding for palliative programs. 

Palliative Care’s Role in Reducing Unnecessary Hospitalizations

Research consistently indicates that integrating palliative care into a patient’s healthcare plan significantly reduces the need for hospital admissions, including repeat hospitalizations, and tends to shorten the duration of hospital stays for those who do need them.

Chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are the leading causes of death and disability in the United States, contributing substantially to the nation’s annual healthcare expenditure of $3.3 trillion, as reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A compelling analysis by Florida TaxWatch suggests that palliative care has the potential to decrease healthcare costs by an impressive $103 billion over the next two decades. This cost reduction is attributed to palliative care’s effectiveness in minimizing the frequency of 911 calls, emergency department visits and urgent hospital admissions.

Other Benefits of Palliative Care

Despite the confusion surrounding its purpose, the advantages of palliative care are significant and including:

  1. Enhanced Quality of Life: Palliative care has a notable impact on improving life quality for patients and their families. It addresses a wide range of symptoms associated with serious illnesses, such as pain, fatigue, gastrointestinal issues and mental health conditions, and makes patients more comfortable.
  2. Reduced Healthcare Costs: Patients receiving palliative care often incur lower medical expenses thanks to reduced hospital stays and emergency room visits. Research has demonstrated that palliative care can halve the daily cost of care for terminally ill patients compared to those not receiving such services.
  3. Greater Control Over Treatment: Palliative care emphasizes a collaborative approach, ensuring that patients are actively involved in their care decisions. This team-based strategy ensures that patients understand their options and can make informed choices that align with their personal healthcare goals.

Considering Palliative Care?

The outlined benefits represent just a fraction of the positive impact palliative care can have. For individuals seeking further information on palliative care or searching for providers in New Hampshire, the Home Care, Hospice & Palliative Care Alliance of NH is a dedicated resource committed to enhancing end-of-life care across the state.

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