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Palliative Care. What Is It and Should You Care?

Palliative care. Do you know what it is? If you don't, then you are in the same boat as about 78% of people who answered a 2011 survey done by the American Cancer Society.2 In fact, only 8% of people said that they feel knowledgeable or very knowledgeable about what palliative care is. That's a shame because palliative care can make your life a whole lot better if you are experiencing symptoms from your cancer or cancer treatment that are not being addressed by oncology.

Palliative care is not hospice care

Even though palliative care has been around for a while, a lot of patients and even a lot of doctors are unfamiliar with it. During a webinar I listened to in August 2018, a person wrote in saying that she requested palliative care services and her oncologist refused a referral. He said she was not ready for palliative care.

That's a problem. You see, palliative care is all about treating your needs and helping improve your quality of life. It is nothospice. It is not about providing end of life services. In short, you can think of palliative care as needs-based and hospice as prognosis-based. Only patients deemed by their oncologist to have six months or less left to live are eligible for hospice services. When you choose hospice, you choose to give up all medical treatments other than those necessary to keep you out of pain and suffering.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is completely different. When you go for palliative care, you continue receiving oncology treatments. In addition to those treatments, you will see a team of medical professionals dedicated to helping improve your quality of life in whatever way is needed. The team might include a physician, a nurse practitioner, nurses, social workers, a chaplain, a psychologist, a financial advisor, dietician, physical therapist, and a pharmacist. Not all teams will include all of these people, but they will know how to get you access to the medical services that you need in addition to your oncology needs.

What is also important is that in most cases palliative care is provided not only for the patient but also for his or her family. Its job is to treat the whole patient, including the needs of the family.

As I listened to the Webinar, one of the burning questions I had was whether insurance pays for the program. The answer is yes. The palliative care doctor or nurse practitioner generates a bill for your insurance company just the same as any other sub-specialist does. While not all of the services (like the chaplain or social worker) are billed to your insurance company, the hospital or community programs help pay for what can't be charged. As Dr. Andrew Esch, the palliative care doctor who gave the Webinar, said, "Billing is our worry, not the concern of the patient."

Outcomes and benefits

Dr. Esch said that there are (at least) five outcomes for patients receiving palliative care:

  1. Relief of pain and symptoms
  2. Better family support
  3. Reduction in hospitalizations and ER visits
  4. Reduction in unnecessary tests and procedures, and
  5. Patients may live longer.

Yep, you read that right. According to an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2011, in many cases, patients receiving palliative care lived longer than patients who did not receive those services.

Are you interested in learning more about palliative care? According to Dr. Esch, the best Website on the Internet to learn about what it is, where you can get it, how to talk to your oncologist about it, and more is: Get Palliative Care.

Have you received palliative care? What was your experience?

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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