Frequently Asked Questions

When is palliative care needed?

Palliative care can help a patient at any stage of a serious illness. It is best introduced early in the plan of care, but can be received at any time, including during and after curative treatment. A patient may need palliative care if he or she:

  • Suffers from symptoms such as pain, nausea, fatigue, depression, anxiety
  • Needs help understanding treatment choices
  • Wants support with making difficult medical decisions
  • Needs assistance coordinating treatments from different healthcare providers
  • Must other treatments be stopped in order to receive palliative care?
  • No. Palliative care is designed to help support treatments that patients are already receiving.The palliative care team works closely with a patient’s primary doctor, case management and other services to ensure complete, well-coordinated treatment.

How can a patient get palliative care?

Patients should talk to their doctor about whether palliative care services might be right for them. Although patients, families and caregivers may discuss a palliative care consultation with their physician at any time, it is best if the physician requests the palliative care team to become involved in the care.

I’ve never heard of it before. Will my doctor know about palliative care?

Yes, your physician will know about the general concept of palliative care, but may not know that Providence has a Palliative Care Consultation Service. We encourage you to talk with your physician about palliative care, and if he or she has any questions, to please call us. We would be happy to talk with him or her.

What is the difference between palliative care and hospice?

Hospice care is a form of palliative care that focuses on the last weeks and months of life. Most hospice care takes place in the home, and is provided by a team of nurses, social workers, chaplains, health aides, and volunteers, overseen by a physician. In order to qualify for hospice care, a physician must certify that a patient has a terminal illness and most likely has less than six months to live. The patient must agree that the focus of care is comfort, not cure.

Palliative care arose out of the hospice movement. The lessons learned by hospice providers in caring for the dying – pain management techniques, coordinating care, working closely with the family – slowly entered mainstream medicine over time as their usefulness was appreciated. Teaching hospitals took the lead in incorporating palliative care into hospital care, adding an emphasis on education and research.

However, palliative care is not the same as hospice care. Though palliative care may address end-of-life issues, it does not necessarily exclude treatments aimed at reducing or curing illness. In many instances, it has been used to compliment these treatments. And unlike hospice, palliative care patients do not require a diagnosis of a terminal illness with less than six months to live. Palliative care programs address the physical, psychosocial, and spiritual needs and expectations of patients with life-altering illnesses at any time during that illness – even if life expectancies extend to years. Although the focus intensifies at the end of life, the goals of relief of suffering and improvement of quality of life remain the same throughout the course of the illness.