Debunking the Myths of Palliative Care

The Myths of Palliative Care by Tara Connolly from VIA Health Partners

By Tara Connolly, VIA Health Partners

Palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is specialized medical care for people with serious illness that focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of the illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. A palliative care specialist works alongside a patient’s primary clinicians. Palliative care providers manage symptoms that persist despite the best medical management, handle difficult conversations about disease progression and assist patients and their families with medical decision-making based on their goals and preferences. Palliative care as a specialty is a relatively new concept and often misunderstood.  Learn the truth behind the 8 most common myths of palliative care.

Myth 1: Palliative care is not just another name for Hospice care

Fact: Hospice care is a form of palliative care that’s given near the end of life, when the patient is expected to have six months or less to live. However, not all palliative care is hospice care. Palliative care can be given to patients who still have many years to live, including those who may recover from their illness.


Myth 2: Patients can not receive other curative treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery, dialysis, home health/therapy while receiving palliative care

Fact: Patients receiving palliative care can receive other types of curative treatment for their illness. It is given alongside treatments intended to cure, control, or modify the person’s illness.


Myth 3: Palliative care is end of life care and speeds up death

Fact: Palliative care focuses on the effective relief of pain and other symptoms, while supporting the best quality of life for patients with serious illnesses. In fact, patients who receive palliative care often live longer when they receive care from the palliative medicine specialist early in the course of their illness!

Another goal of palliative care is to help patients and their families better understand their illness, so they are better able to make decisions if their illness progresses.


Myth 4: Palliative care is just about pain relief

Fact: Pain from serious illness is a common reason to seek palliative care, but so are symptoms like nausea, shortness of breath, anxiety, depression, spiritual distress, constipation, diarrhea, loss of appetite, swelling, itching, insomnia, and other issues that may affect the patient’s and family’s quality of life.


Myth 5: Palliative care is only for patients with cancer

Fact: Palliative care can help people with virtually any serious condition – at any stage of illness — including terminal cancer. For example, palliative care is for people with kidney, liver, lung and heart disease, diabetes, dementia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis, among many others.


Myth 6:  Palliative care only benefits patients

Fact: Families feel a huge sense of relief when they see that their loved one is no longer suffering and finally able to eat, sleep or participate in daily activities. Palliative care specialists sit down with the family to have a patient-focused conversation that results in patients receiving the care they want.


Myth 7: Palliative care services are only offered in the hospital

Fact: Palliative care can be provided in the inpatient and outpatient setting. Most palliative care providers offer appointments at a local clinic, in long term care communities and many will offer home visits based on medical necessity.


Myth 8: Palliative care is expensive

Fact: Palliative care visits are covered by Medicare Part B, Medicaid and most commercial insurers with applicable copayments and deductibles. Palliative care is billed just like any other medical specialty.