Ask the doctor

Stuart VanderHeide

Each month, local health care professionals answer your questions. This month, Dr. Stuart VanderHeide, of Hospice of North Ottawa Community, answers your questions about palliative care.

Q: What is palliative care?

VanderHeide: Palliative care is a medical specialty that focuses on helping patients with the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both patient and family.

Q: Is it covered by insurance?

VanderHeide: Palliative care is covered by most insurance plans, including Medicaid and Medicare. However, 60 percent of Americans who qualify for palliative care don’t use it. Many patients simply don’t know the care is available, or don’t realize they might benefit from utilizing it. I wish more people understood it, because palliative care is a valuable service that helps many people achieve a better quality of life.

Q: What kinds of services are offered?

VanderHeide: It depends on the person and their needs. Palliative care can help patients deal with pain, depression, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, anxiety and any other symptoms that may be causing distress. Sometimes that may involve medication. However, palliative care also includes education, counseling and coordinating care between providers. A palliative care physician is trained to take a holistic look at the patient and his/her environment.

Q: Is palliative care the same as hospice?

VanderHeide: No it is not. Hospice is specifically designed to provide comfort-focused care, equipment and services in the last few months of life. Palliative care, on the other hand, is offered to people with any serious illness at any stage of disease, even at the time of initial diagnosis. Palliative care can be used to complement the work of a patient’s medical team and the aggressive care they may be receiving for their condition. Palliative care serves as an extra layer of support to help patients understand their disease or condition, and live more comfortably with it.

Q: Where can I get palliative care?

VanderHeide: You can get a palliative care consultation in most hospitals, rehab facilities, residential facilities, and even in your own home.

Q: How do I get palliative care?

VanderHeide: If you think palliative care might be beneficial for you or a loved one, talk with your physician. He or she can make a referral to a palliative care provider.

The information contained in this article is for informational and educational purposes only. Its purpose is to promote broad consumer understanding of various health topics and is not intended to be a substitute for advice from your personal physician.

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