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The focus of palliative care is to provide specialized care for people living with serious or terminal illness. It aims to increase the patient's quality of life as the condition progresses, rather than treat the disease or its symptoms. Palliative care can occur at any stage of illness, and it can be provided alongside curative treatments.

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A Variety of Conditions

Palliative care providers work with a variety of patients, including those with serious illnesses like cancer, congestive heart failure, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and advanced liver or kidney disease. Palliative care is an expanding area of medicine — the number of people living with serious illnesses continues to increase as advances in medicine prolong life.

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Team Effort

Palliative care addresses a wide range of patient needs, bridging any gaps in communication and making sure every individual requirement is met. The team can include physicians, nurses, chaplains, social workers, pharmacists, and art and music therapists. This collective collaborates to provide pain relief and psychosocial, spiritual, and emotional support. Help with planing end of life care is included when necessary.

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Hospice Care

People often assume that palliative care is hospice or end of life care, but hospice is only a part of this specialty. When a patient chooses to stop treatment or if it becomes clear that the illness is not responding to treatment, hospice care is warranted. Caregivers still aim to meet all of the patient's needs, but attempts to cure the illness are stopped, and treatment shifts to exclusively keeping the patient comfortable.

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Individual Care Plans

Every patient in palliative care has an individual care plan put together by their team to meet their needs. This plan includes symptom management, support, and guidance about the decisions the patient and their family will have to make as the illness progresses. Care specialists can also connect the patient with community resources and financial concerns.

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Treating Physical Problems

One of the main goals of palliative care is to relieve physical symptoms to make the patient comfortable. This includes treating everything from pain to trouble sleeping and nausea. Palliative care also encompasses a wide range of treatment options besides medication, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, and nutritional support.

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Caring for Other Issues

Patients and their families face a lot of emotions when dealing with a serious illness, among them fear, anxiety, and depression. Palliative care also addresses these issues through integrative counseling, family meetings, support groups, and assistance with securing mental health support. They also help ensure the patient and family understand the treatment choices and set up housing and transportation when needed.

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Palliative Care Consult

There are certain conditions for which palliative care is recommended. Factors that indicate palliative care include readmission to the hospital from nursing homes, frequent hospital admissions, multiple admissions for a terminal illness, advanced cancer that is unlikely to respond to further treatment, and a critically ill patient who has yet to establish advanced directives — a record of medical decisions the patient desires, should they be unable to voice them.

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Inpatient Palliative Care

Inpatient palliative care can be managed by a hospital team or a single practitioner. Some hospitals specialize in palliative care. Inpatient options are available from the ER to the ICU. Physicians typically seek out the palliative care team to assist with symptom management, communication regarding goals and decision making, and end of life or hospice care.

inpatient hospital care KatarzynaBialasiewicz / Getty Images
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Outpatient Palliative Care

Outpatient palliative care is uncommon due to workforce shortages, but it is beneficial when implemented. The goal of outpatient palliative care is to address the same issues while letting the primary care team focus on treating the disease. Research has shown that when outpatient palliative care is implemented in large private oncology systems, satisfaction improves for both patients and the primary care team.

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Community-Based Palliative Care

Community-based palliative care is an emerging option that provides care in long term care settings or the patient's home. This approach is meant to be a bridge between palliative care and hospice. Providers follow patients across admissions and facilities, which provides patients with a deeply specialized plan for the future.

community care model KatarzynaBialasiewicz / Getty Images

Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.