Palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is medical care focused on improving quality of life for patients and their families. A key emphasis is managing pain and other symptoms such as nausea, sleep problems, and so on. Palliative care also focuses on improving planning and communication among the care team (patient, family, and medical staff), and addressing emotional and spiritual needs.
The team will include you and your family, your current doctor and care providers, and specialists in palliative care. A nurse practitioner or registered nurse may be the first member of your palliative care team you meet. With special training in palliative care, a nurse can help with:
- Goal setting
- Family meetings
- Advance care planning
A nurse practitioner may have expanded responsibility for medication and symptom management.
Your nurse will coordinate with other caregivers, including:
- Physician specialist
- Social worker
Palliative care can be used alone or given along with curative measures that aim to treat illness or prolong life (antibiotics, surgery, radiation, etc.). At all levels and stages, palliative care is about improving the quality of a person’s life and supporting the decisions that she or he makes about care.
A professional nurse can provide a variety of services to help both patients and their families during a difficult time, including:
- Palliative care specialists can address the more complex problems that come with a serious illness.
- A palliative care nurse can help coordinate your care and make your life less confusing.
- Nurses can ensure the care you receive matches your needs and values.
Palliative care and nursing coordination can be given at different levels:
- Primary palliative care is woven into regular hospital care. It’s part of what your doctor, nurses, and other care providers do every day to control your pain and help you feel more comfortable. It can include talking about your diagnosis, your treatment options, and your plans for the future. It may mean finding emotional or spiritual support for you or your loved ones.
- A palliative care consult is specialized medical care for people with serious illness. It brings in providers with advanced training to partner with you and your other doctors and nurses. The team can provide extra support for treating complex symptoms, easing your physical pain, and helping you and your family manage the stress of hospitalization and illness. The back of this handout lists people who might be on a palliative care team.