About Palliative Care

For the last thirty years, palliative care has been provided by hospice programs for dying Virginians. Now this very same approach to care is being used by other healthcare providers, including teams in hospitals, nursing facilities and home health agencies in combination with other medical treatments to help people who are seriously ill, but who may not be in terminally ill.
Palliative care takes the principles of hospice, treating body, mind and spirit to minimize the burden of a chronic illness providing comfort and symptom relief. Hospices and other palliative care providers have teams of people working together to provide care. The goals of palliative care are to improve the quality of a seriously ill person’s life and to support that person and their family during and after treatment.
Unlike hospice, which is designed to meet the needs of people at the end-of-life, palliative care may be given at any time during a person’s illness, from the point of diagnosis onwards.


  1. What kinds of illnesses are treated with palliative care?
  2. How is palliative care different from hospice services? 
  3. Do I have to give up on seeking a cure for my disease?
  4. Do I have to give up my familiar physicians and transfer to someone else?
  5. I don’t see “palliative care” mentioned in my insurance plan – does that mean it’s not covered?
  6. Why do I need a whole other team of people to if they are not going to cure me?
  7. When should I start palliative care?
  8. Are there specially qualified "palliative care" doctors and nurses? How would I find one?
  9. Where can I get palliative care?

1.     What kinds of illnesses are treated with palliative care?

Palliative care is available to people challenged by a chronic or “life?limiting” illnesses, such as COPD, congestive heart failure, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, kidney or liver ailments, Parkinson’s disease, AIDS, cancer, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and diabetes

2.     How is palliative care different from hospice services?

All hospice care is palliative care, but not all palliative care is hospice care, so it can be confusing. Usually to obtain hospice services a person's physician and the hospice medical director must “certify” that the  is unlikely to live for longer than 6 months. The person must decline any treatments that are not specifically intended for comfort and quality of life. All costs of hospice care—including the cost of drugs, medical equipment and supplies, the services of the entire hospice team, and bereavement support for the family—are paid for by Medicare or other insurers. However a person may receive palliative care, even if the disease is not terminal or life expectancy is longer than 6 months. The person may continue treatments that are directed toward curing the disease while also benefitting from with palliative care. Medicare, however, does not currently cover all aspects of palliative care, and only a few private insurers offer a palliative care benefit. See more below on payment for palliative care.

3.     Do I have to give up on seeking a cure for my disease?

No. The palliative care team will not only help to relieve distressing symptoms but they may also help you and your family sort out the ongoing risks and benefits of treatments aimed at curing the disease.

4.     Do I have to give up my familiar physicians and transfer to someone else?

The palliative care team usually works closely with your current physicians.

5.     I don’t see “palliative care” mentioned in my insurance plan – does that 

        mean it’s not covered?

Some hospitals provide palliative care consultations and a limited number of ongoing visits with their own team of professionals. These services would be covered by typical insurance reimbursement for medical or nursing services. Medicare will cover the cost of one palliative care consultation with a hospice physician. If you have questions about your insurance coverage, you should consult directly with your insurance agent or carrier.


6.     Why do I need a whole other team of people to if they are not going to cure 


Sometimes when healthcare’s primary focus is on the cure, side effects of treatments or symptoms of the disease are not given the attention they deserve. Nausea, dry mouth, pain, skin breakdown, shortness of breath, sleep problems, weakness and fatigue, anxiety, depression, fear, family conflict, financial pressures, and caregiving burdens can make the experience of a life?limiting or chronic disease even more difficult to bear. Palliative care focuses solely on helping you feel better, to live as fully as you can for as long as you can. Even when diseases are incurable, people receiving palliative care often live longer and better than those who don’t.

7.     When should I start palliative care?

It’s time for palliative care when your illness or its treatments are really harming your quality of life. For example, if pain is making it difficult to move or concentrate; if nausea or diarrhea are preventing you from enjoying your food ; if you are feeling depressed or upset so that life just doesn’t feel good; if your family is having a tough time; any of these could indicate it’s time for palliative care. Palliative care would supplement your medical treatment to support you and your family as long as you have ongoing needs.

8.     Are there specially qualified "palliative care" doctors and nurses?

      How would I find one?

In 1998 palliative care nurses became eligible for certification by National Board for Certification of Hospice and Palliative Nurses and in 2006, the American Board of Medical Specialties made palliative care an official medical “subspecialty.”
To get to a directory of board?certified palliative care physicians, click here:

9.     Where can I get palliative care?

More and more hospitals, nursing homes and clinics in Virginia are offering palliative care. All Veterans Health Administration hospitals offer palliative care, and many hospice agencies offer “pre-hospice” palliative care programs. Talk to your primary physician or the specialist treating your illness first to see what palliative care services might be helpful and available.
Click here for a recent article in US News & World Reports
Click on http://www.getpalliativecare.org   then click on How to Get Palliative Care to find a palliative care provider or program near you.