Have you ever thought to yourself, “I wish I had known about that earlier?” That’s what patients and families dealing with advanced illness often say when they learn about palliative care.
While today’s powerful medical treatments can ease or even cure serious illness, they may also have unintended consequences, producing pain, nausea, or other unpleasant side effects. The combination of stress from managing medications and making appointments, along with not knowing what to expect, may make a challenging situation even worse.
Palliative care confronts such issues head on. With the goal of bringing comfort and relief from pain, emotional distress, and other symptoms, palliative care can help anyone, at any age, who is suffering with a chronic, progressive illness.
What is Palliative Care and How Does it Work?
Palliative care is designed to address the many complex issues facing someone dealing with a serious illness, with the ultimate objective of improving quality of life. One of the most extraordinary and, unfortunately, least understood, aspects of palliative care, however, is also the most important: Patients undergoing palliative care may continue treatment to try to cure their disease.
It’s a win-win situation. While your medical team tackles your illness, CCH’s palliative care team tackles your symptoms, giving you the strength and relief to focus on getting better.
At Capital Caring Health (CCH), palliative care is provided by a specialized, interdisciplinary care team, including more than 20 board-certified CCH doctors, along with nurse practitioners, nurse aides, social workers, pastoral counselors, and volunteers. Palliative care can be delivered in many different settings including homes, hospitals, clinics, long-term care and assisted living facilities, and other locations.
Beyond Physical Pain
In addition to managing pain and other uncomfortable symptoms, palliative care can also help with the emotional or spiritual distress that often accompanies serious illness, including anxiety, fear, and/or depression.
Patients and family members can access CCH’s counseling services and talk with licensed social workers, certified chaplains, and counselors. Having a conversation with someone specially-trained in advanced illness can make a big difference in how you feel and deal with your unique situation.
Your dedicated care team can also help you better understand the progression of your specific illness, clarify information, and address your concerns. We’ll also discuss your care options, preferences, and goals, and assist in finding any needed resources.
One of the lesser-known facts about palliative care is that it also covers important non-medical services. According to a 2021 survey conducted by CCH and WebMD, 30% of participants did not know that palliative care can help with insurance issues, scheduling appointments, arranging transportation, facilitating patient/family communication, and more. Such family/caregiver support can help reduce anxiety over all the details of dealing with the serious illness of a loved one.
Promoting Access and Equity in Advanced Illness Care
Beyond providing direct care and support, CCH is dedicated to increasing the understanding and use of all phases of advanced illness care through community education and public awareness campaigns. We believe that knowing more about the benefits of hospice and palliative care will make a difference to all families, especially communities of color—traditionally among the least likely to use such services due to a combination of cultural and historical factors.
Toward that end, CCH has created special programs that focus on serious conditions or needs that face many seniors but disproportionately affect minority populations. One example is our Advanced Cardiac Care (ACC) program that helps patients with congestive heart failure and their families safely manage difficult symptoms at home, avoiding the stress and costs associated with frequent emergency room visits and hospital stays.
When is the Right Time for Palliative Care and How do I get Started?
If you or a family member are dealing with a serious progressive illness such as cancer, heart disease, dementia, or kidney, lung, liver or neurological disease (ALS/Lou Gehrig’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, stroke), palliative care can likely help. The best way to start is by talking to your physician about the patient’s condition, progression, and likely outcome. As appropriate, the physician can write an order for palliative care. If a patient continues their treatment, the palliative care team works with the patient’s doctors and other care providers to make sure everyone is aware of their needs and plan of care including medications, other ways to manage symptoms, and needed support.
Palliative care services are typically covered by Medicare Part B, some Medicaid programs, and many commercial health plans. Deductibles, out-of-pocket costs, and other restrictions may apply, so it is always important to check your individual policy or contact the plan administrator to determine your specific benefits. CCH can help you with coverage arrangements as needed.
The value of palliative care services for any individual with a serious, progressive illness and their loved ones is comfort and relief from pain, critical support for families, and a better quality of life for all. For some patients, palliative care may be followed by improvement or cure of a serious disease. For others, there may be a progression to end-of-life (hospice) care. Either way, palliative care offers a seamless solution for pain and other challenging symptoms, emotional and spiritual distress, and other needed support, allowing patients and families to focus on what matters most, no matter what.
To learn more about our services, help with referrals, starting care, or more, please call (800) 856-1348 anytime, day or night, or visit our website for a live chat or online information. Find more information on specific conditions and when to consider outside help in our online resources. And visit the Capital Caring Health Center for Health Equity to learn more about our mission and work.