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Palliative Care Frequently Asked Questions

What is palliative care?
Is palliative care the same as hospice care?
When does the Pain and Palliative Care Service become involved in the care of a patient?
How does a patient gain access to pain and palliative care?
Will my insurance cover palliative care services?

1. What is palliative care? Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with serious illness. The main goal of palliative care is to improve the quality of life for both the patient and the family by easing a patient's distress while remaining mindful of patient and family needs, values, beliefs, and culture.

2. Is palliative care the same as hospice care? No. A patient does not need to have a terminal diagnosis to receive palliative care. Palliative care provides relief from pain, discomfort, and distress while the patient receives disease-controlling treatment. Patients may receive palliative care at any point during treatment, from the time of diagnosis onward, although it is most commonly administered to patients with later-stage disease. It neither hastens nor postpones death. Hospice uses many of the same techniques as palliative care but aims to provide end-of-life care for patients with very advanced or terminal disease who no longer wish to receive active treatment.

3. When does palliative care become involved in the care of a patient? A patient may be referred for palliative care services at the request of the attending physician when he or she:

  • Has pain and/or other symptoms
  • Is unable to function normally
  • Has cancer that has spread (metastasized) or returned after being in remission
  • Has other health problems (comorbidities) that complicate cancer care
  • Has concerns about the course of the disease
  • Needs help in making difficult decisions, such as those related to course of treatment or end-of-life issues
  • Needs help finding the right care outside the hospital

4. How does a patient gain access to palliative care? For most patients, the attending physician coordinates palliative care. The physician will request the palliative care team for assistance as needed. Palliative care also may be given on an outpatient basis, once the patient has been discharged from the hospital.

5. Will my insurance cover palliative care services? Palliative care is covered under Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurance companies. Palliative care can actually reduce patient costs because studies have shown that access to palliative care often shortens time spent in the hospital and reduces the number of admissions to the intensive care unit. To find out the details of your insurance plan, contact the Customer Service or Member Services Department at your insurance company (the phone numbers are on your insurance card or in your benefits book). For more information about insurance coverage, please see our Insurance Information section.

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