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Palliative Care Center

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What Is Palliative Care?

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What Is Palliative Care? continued...

Currently, there are more than 1,400 hospital palliative care programs in the U.S., according to Meier. About 80% of large U.S. hospitals with more than 300 beds have a palliative care program, she says. Among smaller hospitals with more than 50 beds, about 55% have programs.

Typically, a palliative care team includes a physician, nurse, and social worker, Meier says. But it often involves a chaplain, psychologist or psychiatrist, physical or occupational therapist, dietitian, and others, depending on the patient's needs.

When Is Palliative Care Appropriate?

Patients like Huggins can begin palliative care as soon as they're diagnosed with a serious illness, at the same time they continue to pursue a cure. Palliative care doesn't signal that a person has given up hope for a recovery.

Some patients recover and move out of palliative care. Others with chronic diseases, such as COPD, may move in and out of palliative care as the need arises.

If cure of a life-threatening disease proves elusive, palliative care can improve the quality of patients' lives. And when death draws near, palliative care can segue into hospice care.

Quality of Life

When it comes to quality of life, each patient has his or her own vision.

"Each suffering is unique. Each individual is unique, and each family and the dynamics are unique," Chan says. 

"There is no generalization and that's the key," Meier says. "Palliative care is genuinely patient-centered, meaning: We ask the patient what's important to them and what their major priorities are. Based on what the patients or the family tell us, we then develop a care plan and a strategy that meets the patient's goals and values."

For some people, Meier says, the goal or value might be to live as long as possible -- no matter what the quality.

"Maybe one in 10 to one in 20 patients don't care if they're on a ventilator and on dialysis for the rest of their life. They're waiting for a miracle and that's what they want," she says. "They understand the odds and that's their choice. And then we will do everything in our power to make sure that their goals are respected and adhered to."

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