Palliative care refers to the field of medicine that focuses on decreasing the severity of disease symptoms. Unlike the traditional treatment objectives of developing a cure or delaying the progression of the disease, the goals of palliative care are to reduce pain and suffering and to improve the quality of life of people with serious, chronic medical illnesses. Help is also offered to families of patients to cope with their terminally-ill member, including those with mesothelioma.
Hospice care is often confused with non-hospice palliative care because they share many similarities; however, hospice care is regulated differently and refers to certain palliative treatments that are only provided to those who are at the end of life. Those who wish to enroll in Medicare-covered hospice care have to meet eligibility rules created and regulated by the federal government, which includes providing medical records that prove the patient has less than six months to live based on the progression of their afflicted illness.
Conversely, non-hospice palliative care can be offered to any person that has been diagnosed with a serious illness, regardless of whether they expect to fully recover, to experience steady symptoms for a long period of time, or to get worse as a result of the disease’s progression.
Why employ palliative care?
Palliative care is sometimes provided as a supplement to curative and other types of treatments, and in some cases, the palliative methods help ease the side effects of curative treatments, such as nausea caused by chemotherapy. Care is not restricted to only patients undergoing these procedures, however. Patients who are stricken by serious illnesses for which no cure exists receive palliative care to improve the quality of the remainder of their life.
Palliative care has typically been provided to adults for diseases such as cancer, chronic pulmonary disorders, renal disease, progressive pulmonary disorders, and chronic heart failure. However, the field of pediatric palliative care is growing rapidly because of the need for children-specific treatments.
History of Palliative Care
Methods for treating patients with serious medical conditions have traditionally been focused on trying to find a cure for the disease. Most physicians viewed palliative treatments as having risky side effects and were concerned they would lead to addictive behaviors in patients.
Palliative care traces its roots back to the fourthcentury, and it first began in hospices, places where travelers stopped to rest during their journeys. However, it was very different from the modern hospice care of today, which began in the United Kingdom. Dame Cicely Saunders, whom many regard as the founder of the modern hospice moment, founded St. Christopher’s Hospice in 1967. The hospice, which still operates today and is considered a center of innovation and insight, was world’s first purpose-built hospice.
Palliative care programs were not established in United States hospitals until the late 1980s. Even then, it was only provided at a handful of hospitals, including the Medical College of Wisconsin and Cleveland Clinic. The nation was slow to catch up to the UK, which considered palliative care a full specialty of medicine in 1989.
The palliative care field has grown dramatically in the last 20 years, however. In the US, more than 1,200 hospital-based programs have been established and over 55% of hospitals with 100+ beds have a program in place.
More than 1.2 million U.S. individuals and their families received hospice care in 2005. Hospice care is no longer predominantly volunteer-ran as it once was; now it is much more regulated government health care.