What is Palliative Care?

According to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), palliative care is a medical subspecialty that provides care for patients who are seriously ill. The goal of palliative medicine is to relieve suffering, improve life quality and provide support for patients of all ages.

An Overview of Palliative Medicine

Many people mistakenly assume that palliative medicine is reserved for terminal patients or those with chronic, life-threatening health problems. Palliative medicine focuses on relieving pain, stress and the symptoms of serious illnesses. Palliative medicine is provided at any illness stage, so patients often receive it simultaneously with curative treatments.
This unique care often helps patients recover from their illnesses by relieving severe symptoms, such as anxiety and loss of appetite, while patients undergo painful and challenging medical treatments or procedures, such as chemotherapy. Palliative medicine helps chronically ill patients who tend to experience poor outcomes with constant re-hospitalizations. This type of medical care is provided in a variety of health care settings, such as hospitals, hospices, nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Who Needs Palliative-based Care?

Palliative programs are designed to support seriously ill patients who have complex pain issues and symptom management difficulties. Patients may experience physical, spiritual or psychosocial pain and distress. These same patients tend to experience a high need for constant patient, provider and family communication. Palliative programs bring together disciplinary medical teams that collaborate to tackle numerous problems facing the patient and family. Physicians usually request palliative referrals for patients with challenging treatments who need health care providers to simultaneously make collaborative decisions and care goals. Patients who experience terminal illnesses, progressive deterioration of health and prolonged hospital stays without clear evidence of improvement may enter palliative programs.

Who Provides Palliative-based Care?

Palliative medicine is administered by an interdisciplinary team of health care professionals that includes physicians, nutritionists, caregivers, registered nurses (RNs) and advanced practice nurses (APNs). Many LNs, RNs and nurses who deal with palliative medicine seek credentialing through the Hospice and Palliative Credentialing Center. Palliative-based physicians tend to seek certification through the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM). There are other health care providers who provide care, such as chaplains, licensed counselors and medical social workers. Social workers usually obtain the Advanced Certified Hospice and Palliative Social Worker (ACHP-SW) through the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) organization. There are also clinical administrators and operational supervisors who over programs.

Career Snapshot

One of the most common jobs is a palliative nurse practitioner. These health care providers are responsible for providing specialized care services to patients in collaboration with attending physicians. They provide health care services for acute, chronic and terminal illnesses. They also educate and counsel patients and families while also providing referrals to other health care providers and community resources. They contribute to clinical research activities, participate in quality improvement initiatives and facilitate staff development by presenting educational classes. Most nurses who work in palliative medicine are graduates of an accredited graduate-level APN program and maintain national certification through well-recognized organizations

Those who wish to learn more about palliative care can explore the Hospice and Palliative Nursing Association’s (HPNA) website here.