How Home-Based Palliative Care Can Help You or a Loved One
By Spencer Christensen, MD
If you or a loved one are living with a serious illness like cancer, heart or lung disease, you may need help managing symptoms, improving your quality of life, or reducing stress. Palliative care can help.
Whether receiving palliative care at a hospital, outpatient clinic, or at home (“home-based palliative care”), there are options for getting the care that you or your loved one needs. In this blog post, we explore the ins and outs of one of the options – home-based palliative care – with answers to some commonly asked questions.
What is Palliative Care? Is Home-Based Palliative Care Different?
Palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is specialized medical care for people living with serious illnesses. This type of care is focused on relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. Palliative care is provided by a specially trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists, who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided along with curative treatment.
Palliative care is available in various settings, so that the person living with a serious illness can receive it where they need it. Whether that’s at home or in a hospital, the goals are the same. And home-based palliative care can help you avoid unnecessary hospitalizations by managing complex symptoms before they get worse.
What can I expect from home-based palliative care?
You or your loved one would have a specially-trained team — which may include a doctor and a nurse — dedicated to helping improve your quality of life. They would work with you, your family, and your other doctors to treat symptoms like pain, shortness of breath, anxiety, and more. The team would get to know you as a person and provide care tailored to your needs and what you would like in addressing your symptoms, emotional stress and spiritual needs. In many cases, they can help arrange for necessary medical tests to be done at your home, such as x-rays or blood work. And the palliative care team also communicates with your other doctors to make sure everyone is aware of your needs and care.
Will the home-based palliative care team listen to me as a patient?
The palliative care team will spend time listening to you, and getting to know you and your family. They want to learn what’s important to you; and based on that, they’ll develop a treatment plan.
How do I know if home-based palliative care is available where I live?
Originally, palliative care was only available to patients and families within the hospital. But now that doctors see the many ways that palliative care can help, and the Affordable Care Act was passed, it is becoming more widely available in other settings.
While availability is growing, it’s not yet an option everywhere. If you or a loved one are having difficulty with a serious illness, it’s important to talk to your doctor about palliative care to learn what services are available where you live. A referral is typically necessary. You can look at this Palliative Care Provider Directory – and share it with your doctor to help locate programs in your area.
How to Get Palliative Care
If you are or a loved one are living with a serious illness, ask your doctor for a palliative care referral. As mentioned above, in some areas, palliative care is available in the comfort of your home – but, when it’s not, it is available in most hospitals and outpatient clinics. For more information about palliative care and to see if it’s right for you, visit GetPalliativeCare.org.
COVID-19 Safety Reminder
As someone living with a serious illness, it’s important that you keep following health and safety guidelines related to COVID-19. The virus is still circulating and you may have more than one risk factor that could lead to severe complications if you catch this infection. The virus is spread through person-to-person contact, via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or even simply talks. It’s not always clear if someone is infected, so the US Centers for Disease Control advises that individuals in higher risk groups maintain health and safety practices. These include proper and frequent handwashing or use of hand sanitizer, wearing face coverings in public, and physical distancing with anyone outside of your immediate family circle. Visit the COVID-19 information pages at GetPalliativeCare.org to learn more.
Dr. Christensen is with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.