Ask the expert: What is palliative care?

Dr. Ritzau, MD, director of palliative care and medical director at HopeHealth, shares five facts to know about palliative care.
Dr. Ritzau, MD

Palliative care is a relatively new medical subspecialty that helps patients who are living with a serious illness. Its recognition is growing, but people are still confused about what it is and how it differs from hospice care. Jennifer Ritzau, MD, director of palliative care and medical director at HopeHealth, shares five facts to know about palliative care.

1. Palliative care provides relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness.

When a serious illness affects a person or his or her loved ones, it can be a very difficult time for all involved. Palliative care providers work to improve quality of life for both patients and their family members. Working with the existing health care team, palliative care specialists seek to provide an extra layer of support to families and patients struggling with the burdens of serious illness. HopeHealth’s team focuses on improving symptoms like pain, nausea, fatigue and shortness of breath.

2. Palliative care focuses on quality of life.

We help families have a clear understanding of their loved one’s illness and treatment options. By doing that, patients and families can decide what is most important to them. From there, our team can modify the patient’s care plan to match his or her goals for care. Palliative care has helped patients living with serious illness live longer, better lives, despite their illness. This is done by bringing the focus on quality of life and improved understanding of illness. It’s important to note that patients do not have to give up on curative treatments for their illness while receiving palliative care.

3. Palliative care is not hospice care.

There is a growing awareness of the benefits of palliative care, not only to improve the quality of life for patients facing serious illness, but also to increase the value of care that is delivered to them. However, some may think that palliative care is a euphemism for hospice care or end-of-life care. This is not the case at all. Palliative care should be started as soon as patients are diagnosed with a serious, life-threatening illness because there is so much we can do to help. Because palliative care does help manage pain, some may confuse our expertise with pain clinics. Our skills are directed toward patients who have serious medical conditions rather than chronic pain that may not be associated with a serious illness.

4. Palliative care covers a variety of conditions.

We see cancer patients at all phases of their illness. In addition, we are able to help with more chronic conditions like heart failure, emphysema and renal disease. We often see patients with more than one complex condition. Individually, each condition may not be serious, but in combination with other conditions, it has a major impact on patients’ health. Patients living with a neurologic illness like dementia, chronic strokes, ALS and multiple sclerosis can also benefit from palliative care. What’s most important is that patients and families realize how helpful palliative care can be, and request this service wherever they are.

5. Palliative care is covered by insurance. 

Palliative care consultations are covered by most insurance programs, just like any other specialist might be involved in your care. Although the issues we address may be different, seeing a palliative care provider in the hospital or in an outpatient clinic is no different than seeing a gastroenterologist, cardiologist or oncologist. It is also paid for in the same way. There is no limit to how long a patient can be supported by palliative care.

Want to learn more about palliative care?

Contact us at (844) 671-HOPE or

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