What is Palliative Care?


Palliative care is a type of medical care that focuses on helping seriously ill patients and their families improve quality of life by alleviating symptoms, pain, and stress. Palliative care is a medical specialty, just like cardiology, oncology, or pediatrics.

An interdisciplinary team provides individualized services and puts you and your loved ones at the center of all treatment decisions. The palliative care team addresses all aspects of a

serious illness, recognizing that a patient is not just a disease, but a person with unique physical, emotional, and social needs.


Who is on the Palliative Care Team?

Palliative care is provided by a team of professional that primarily includes palliative care physicians, palliative care nurses, and social workers. The team may also include pharmacists and other health-care professionals.


What Can Be Expected from Palliative Care?


Depending on the care options chosen by the patient, improvement may be experienced in the following ways:

  • Relief from pain and symptoms that may be interfering with daily life
  • Unique solutions and a fresh approach to each individual medical situation
  • Relaxation and reduced stress
  • Support and minimized stress for the family
  • Greater understanding of the illness and options for treatment and care
  • Help with decision-making with regard to treatment options
  • Peace of mind


The palliative care team will consult with a patient’s physician to evaluate a specific set of symptoms or to recommend solutions for improved pain management. At times, the palliative care team will act as a manger of the patient’s care, in consultation with the patient’s primary physician.


Which Patients Need Palliative Care?


Any person who is experiencing a serious illness of any kind is appropriate for palliative care. Therefore, there are no age or disease restrictions. A few examples of illnesses treated by palliative care include, but are not limited to:


  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  • Congestive Heart Failure (CHF)
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Kidney Failure
  • Stroke
  • Cancer


Is Palliative Care the Same as Hospice?


No. There is confusion about whether or not “hospice care” and “palliative care” are interchangeable phrases. They are not. All hospice care is palliative, but not all palliative care is hospice care.

Palliative care and hospice care share the same goals of comfort through management of pain and symptoms. In addition, both care systems embrace the concept of an interdisciplinary team. There are distinct differences, however:


  • Palliative care is available to ALL patients and their families, and is provided at any stage of a serious illness. Palliative care can also be provided alongside curative treatment.
  • Hospice care is for patients who have a limited life expectancy, usually of six months or less. It is provided after all curative treatment has been attempted.


For more information about Palliative Care, contact one of our caring professionals at (215) 581-2046 or hhelp@vnaphilly.org.