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Helping Families Understand Palliative Care – Part I

Dr. Diane Meier, Palliative Care specialist

As a doctor at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, I’ve seen firsthand the enormous impact that caring for someone with a serious medical condition can have on a caregiver’s daily life—from managing medications to dealing with physical and emotional stress. I’m also a palliative care specialist and it’s one of my goals to help patients and caregivers understand what palliative care is and how it can provide them with an extra layer of support.

There are so many benefits of palliative care, but I find that many patients and caregivers have questions about what it is and who should receive it.

Here are answers to some of the most common questions that I receive about palliative care:

Q. What is palliative care?

A: Palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is specialized 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 diagnosis. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.

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

Q. Is palliative care only available for older patients?

A: Palliative care is important at any point in a serious illness and for patients of any age. Patients can ask about palliative at the same time they are diagnosed and initially treated.

Q. Is palliative care covered by health insurance?

A: Most insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover palliative care.

Q. Do you have to give up your own doctor?

A: No. The specialists who make up the palliative care team work together with your primary doctor.

Q. Can you have palliative care together with curative treatment?

A: Yes. Palliative care can be given along with life-prolonging treatments, and it is appropriate at any stage in serious illness.

I encourage anyone who is caring for someone with a serious illness to find out more about palliative care. For more information and to look for a palliative care specialist in your area, visit GetPalliativeCare.org.

What questions do you have on palliative care? Leave them in our comments section below. 

About the Author:

Dr. Diane E. Meier is Director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC), a national organization devoted to increasing the number and quality of palliative care programs in the United States. Under her leadership the number of palliative care programs in U.S. hospitals has more than tripled in the last 10 years. She is Vice-Chair for Public Policy and Professor of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine; Catherine Gaisman Professor of Medical Ethics; and was the founder and Director of the Hertzberg Palliative Care Institute, 1997-2011, all at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

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