How does palliative care work?

Palliative care can be provided throughout treatment for a serious illness — whether you or your loved one is being treated on an outpatient basis or in a hospital or a nursing home. This type of treatment can be provided by various specialists, including doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, counselors, chaplains, registered dietitians, pharmacists and rehabilitation specialists.

A palliative care specialist works with the primary care doctor and a team of other health care professionals to create a treatment plan that eases symptoms, relieves pain, addresses spiritual and psychological concerns, and helps maintain dignity and comfort.

A palliative care specialist can also help you or your loved one communicate with doctors and family members and create a smooth transition between the hospital and home care or nursing facilities. The palliative care team will educate you and your family members about what to expect and schedule routine meetings to discuss ongoing care throughout the course of your illness.

What are some real-life examples of palliative care?

Here's one example of how palliative care works: You have a history of heart failure and are increasingly short of breath, which makes it hard for you to do even simple chores around the house. You live at home with a partner who also has health problems. You find that getting all of the care you and your partner need is becoming more difficult, and you're not sure how to plan for the future. This has been stressful for you and your family physically, psychologically, spiritually and financially.

Your primary care doctor suggests that you consider palliative care and explains that a palliative care team will work with you to determine how to ease your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

How can I learn more about palliative care?

If you're interested in obtaining palliative care for yourself or a loved one, ask your doctor or your loved one's doctor about palliative care options and if a program is available in your area.

Jan. 10, 2013 See more In-depth