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Home Health Disease Health Palliative Care
About Palliative Care

Palliative care (also called palliative medicine, supportive care, comfort care and symptom management) is an area of healthcare that focuses on relieving and preventing the suffering of patients. Unlike hospice care, palliative care is appropriate for patients in all disease stages, including those undergoing treatment for curable illnesses and those living with chronic diseases, as well as patients who are nearing the end of life. Palliative medicine utilizes a multidisciplinary approach to patient care, relying on input from physicians, pharmacists, nurses, chaplains, social workers, psychologists and other allied health professionals in formulating a plan of care to relieve suffering in all areas of a patient's life.

Medications and treatments are said to have a palliative effect if they relieve symptoms without having a curative effect on the underlying disease or cause. This can include treating nausea related to chemotherapy or something as simple as morphine to treat the pain of broken leg or ibuprofen to treat aching related to an influenza (flu) infection.

Scope of the term

Palliative care is a term derived from Latin palliare, "to cloak". It refers to specialised medical care for people with serious illnesses. It is focused on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain and stress of a serious illness — whatever the prognosis. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family as they are the central system for care.

Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with a patient's other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness and can be provided along with curative treatment.

A World Health Organisation statement describes palliative care as "an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual."

Comparison with hospice care

In the United States, a distinction may be made between palliative care and hospice care. Hospice services and palliative care programs share similar goals of providing symptom relief and pain management. Palliative care services can be offered to any patient without restriction to disease or prognosis, and can be appropriate for anyone with a serious, complex illness, whether they are expected to recover fully, to live with chronic illness for an extended time, or to experience disease progression. Hospice care under the Medicare Hospice Benefit, however, requires that two physicians certify that a patient has less than six months to live if the disease follows its usual course. This does not mean, though, that if a patient is still living after six months in hospice he or she will be discharged from the service.

History

Palliative care began in the hospice movement and is now widely used outside of traditional hospice care. Hospices were originally places of rest for travellers in the 4th century. In the 19th century a religious order established hospices for the dying in Ireland and London. The modern hospice is a relatively recent concept that originated and gained momentum in the United Kingdom after the founding of St. Christopher's Hospice in 1967. It was founded by Dame Cicely Saunders, widely regarded as the founder of the modern hospice movement.

The hospice movement has grown dramatically in recent years. In the UK in 2005 there were just under 1,700 hospice services consisting of 220 inpatient units for adults with 3,156 beds, 33 inpatient units for children with 255 beds, 358 home care services, 104 hospice at home services, 263 day care services and 293 hospital teams. These services together helped over 250,000 patients in 2003 & 2004. Funding varies from 100% funding by the National Health Service to almost 100% funding by charities, but the service is always free to patients.

Society
Costs and funding

Families of persons who get a referral to palliative care services during emergency department visits incur fewer costs during End-of-life care.
Funding for hospice and palliative care services varies. In Great Britain and many other countries all palliative care is offered free to the patient and their family, either through the National Health Service (as in the UK) or through charities working in partnership with the local health services.

Regional variation in services

Because palliative care sees an increasingly wide range of conditions in patients at varying stages of their illness it follows that palliative care teams offer a range of care. This may range from managing the physical symptoms in patients receiving treatment for cancer, to treating depression in patients with advanced disease, to the care of patients in their last days and hours.

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