Palliative Care is More than Just Hospice

Palliative Care

Most hospitals and care facilities offer the option of palliative care to patients suffering from severe or chronic illness. This can be scary and confusing to patients and their families because palliative medicine is often associated with end-of-life care.

Palliative treatment provided at the end of a person’s life when curative treatments have been suspended is called hospice, but hospice is not the only type of palliative treatment available to patients. Palliative medicine can be applied in conjunction with curative disease treatment to make patients more comfortable and improve their quality of life during recovery.

What Treatments are Used in Palliative Medicine?
Palliative treatments include anything that reduces a patient’s suffering. Medications such as pain relievers, muscle relaxers, and anti-anxiety drugs are often used. Psychological counseling and stress-reducing treatments like acupuncture and massage are also common. Surgeries or radiation to reduce the size of tumors or masses can be considered palliative if the procedure is done to reduce the patient’s discomfort rather than to cure the disease.

What Patients Benefit from Palliative Care?
Any patient who is experiencing pain, stress or discomfort will derive benefits from palliative care. Reducing a patient’s discomfort strengthens the mind and body to help fight disease. Patients who receive palliative treatment alongside curative treatment have better outcomes. Palliative treatment is not limited to the elderly. Newborns who are born premature or ill, children fighting cancer, young adults recovering from injuries and women who are experiencing difficulties in pregnancy or childbirth are just a few examples of patients who can benefit from palliative medicine. Ontario is spending a significant amount of resources in providing patients with more choices for palliative care so expect more people to benefit from it in the future.

How Does a Patient Get Palliative Treatment?
The first step is a discussion between the patient’s primary doctor and the patient or the patient’s next of kin. Often the doctor will be the one who suggests palliative treatment, but patients and family members should not be afraid to speak up if the patient is experiencing a great deal of suffering. Most hospitals and care facilities offer palliative medicine, but in some cases a doctor’s referral and transfer of the patient is required to receive this type of treatment. According to the Canada Health Act, medically-necessary services including palliative treatment must be covered by territorial and provincial health insurance plans.

Is Palliative Care for Everyone?
As evidenced by Ontario’s $75 million investment in palliative care, palliative care is something that can benefit many patients. However there are many cases where the benefit is not worth the cost. Patients for whom palliative treatment is not considered medically necessary have to cover the cost out-of-pocket. These patients may benefit more from pursuing pain relieving measures on their own, such as taking over the counter medications, visiting a massage therapist or joining a support group.