Palliative care is care that improves the quality of life for patients, making the patient as comfortable as possible by anticipating, preventing, diagnosing and treating their symptoms (as opposed to trying to cure the illness itself). In addition to medical care, palliative care can incorporate psychological, social and spiritual support for patients and for families.
Although palliative care is sometimes conflated with hospice care, palliative care is not limited to patients with terminal illnesses. In other words, while all hospice care is palliative care, the reverse is not true. Palliative care can be beneficial to any patient with a serious medical condition that might impact their quality of life. The National Institute on Aging notes that palliative care “can be helpful at any stage of illness and is best provided from the point of diagnosis.”
In non-hospice situations, regardless of prognosis, palliative care can be provided alongside curative care, in order to alleviate symptoms and side-effects, reduce pain, and improve the patient’s quality of life while curative care is ongoing. As an example, a patient with cancer might receive treatments to alleviate pain and nausea (palliative), while also receiving radiation and chemotherapy to treat the cancer itself (curative care).
Medicare does cover hospice care, which is palliative care. And depending on the medical necessity, Medicare also covers palliative care alongside curative care.