Myths Debunked: Palliative Care Edition

Palliative care is one of the most misunderstood fields of medicine out there.  We’re here to clarify things. 

Myth:  You can only receive palliative care in a hospital setting. 

Palliative care can be provided in any setting, whether in a hospital, at home, or in a long term care facility. 

Myth: Palliative care only uses addictive drugs to treat pain.

Palliative care programs use a variety of medications and non-medications (such as massage, acupuncture therapy, and pet therapy) to treat pain.  Opioids are not the “go-to”. 

Myth: Palliative care and hospice care are one in the same.

Hospice care is a form of palliative care but palliative care is not always hospice care.  Hospice care is only for patients with 6 months or less to live, when treatment options are no longer working or the patient has decided to no longer undergo treatment for a terminal illness.  Non-hospice palliative care, on the other hand, can begin at any stage of a serious illness and aims to maintain quality of life for as long as possible. 

Myth: Palliative care accelerates death. 

Palliative care provides comfort and quality of life to the patient for as long as possible; It does not hasten death.  

Myth: If a doctor refers a patient to a palliative care program, that means the doctor has given up on treatment. 

A doctor may refer a patient to a palliative care program if he feels that the patient’s quality of life is suffering as a result of increased pain and stress while undergoing treatment.  A referral to non-hospice palliative care does not mean that the doctor has given up on treatment; it means he wants to keep the patient as comfortable as possible whilst treatment is underway. 

Myth: Palliative care is only for cancer patients. 

While palliative care can certainly benefit cancer patients, it’s available to any patient with a serious illness. 

Myth: Palliative care is very expensive. 

Medicare and Medicaid cover many costs associated with palliative care.  Additionally, palliative care is generally covered under chronic care benefits by private insurance companies.  For questions regarding coverage, contact your insurance company directly prior to entering a palliative care program.  

Myth: Once you start palliative care, you will no longer see your regular doctors. 

The focus of palliative care is on maintaining your quality of life.  However, it is not a replacement for other physicians.  Palliative care programs will work with your physician(s) to develop a treatment plan unique to you.