Palliative Care: FAQs

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1. What is palliative care?

Palliative care relieves suffering and improves quality of life for patients while they are receiving treatment for an illness. This care can be provided not only by doctors and nurses but also by pharmacists, mental health professionals, social workers, physical therapists, and chaplains. Palliative care seeks to ease a patient’s distress while remaining mindful of patient and family needs, values, beliefs, and culture.

Any patient concerned about pain or discomfort should not hesitate to ask the treating physician about the possibility of receiving palliative care.

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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 at home for patients with very advanced or terminal disease who no longer wish to receive active treatment.

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3. When does the Palliative Medicine Service become involved in the care of a patient?

A patient may be referred to the Palliative Medicine Service 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
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4. How does a patient gain access to pain and palliative care?

For most patients, the attending physician coordinates palliative care. The physician will request the Pain and Palliative Care Service for assistance as needed. Palliative care also may be given on an outpatient basis, once the patient has been discharged from the hospital.

Outpatient Clinics

The Palliative Medicine Service provides outpatient clinics at several locations:

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5. Will my insurance cover palliative care services?

In many cases, palliative care is covered under the patient’s insurance plan. 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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