What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care is a medical approach that aims to improve the quality of life of patients who are facing life-threatening illness. It aims to prevent and relieve suffering of those patients, and also offers support to the family.  Generally, medicine focuses on curing disease often without regard to the comfort of the patient living with the disease. Palliative care addresses these gaps. The goal is to make sure patients with serious illnesses are as comfortable, functional, and informed as possible so they can cope with their illness no matter how serious it is.  Palliative care aims to help you and your family maintain the best quality of life despite your illness by addressing the physical, practical, social, psychological, emotional and spiritual needs associated with your illness. Palliative care focuses on the entire person, not just his or her illness. We understand that people with serious illnesses can be frightened and unsure when making medical decisions. We also understand that there is not one right or wrong decision that is appropriate for everyone, and that your needs and wishes may change with time. Palliative care providers help you understand your options, plan for the future and establish goals for your care. We help you make decisions and coordinate your medical care. The palliative care team also supports your family members and caregivers to help them play a positive role and help ease some of their stress.
Palliative care should not be a last resort to turn to only when there is not chance for cure. It is not about giving up. In fact, patients who receive palliative care have been shown to cope better with their treatments. People can receive palliative care when they are very sick and stop getting palliative care once they are better.
This short animation explains it well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDHhg76tMHc

What is the difference between Palliative Care and Hospice Care?

Hospice care falls under the umbrella of palliative care. Palliative care addresses the needs of patients who are suffering because of their illness regardless of diagnosis, the stage of their illness, or how curable their condition is. Patients with curable illness can receive palliative care during a particularly difficult phase of their treatment and stop receiving palliative care once they feel better.
Hospice care general refers to the period when curative treatment is no longer an option. Hospice care is the palliative care that is provided at the end of life and aims to ease the transition of patients who are in their final days.

If I receive palliative care, will I still receive medical treatment?

Yes.  Medical treatment for palliative care patients is aimed at managing the symptoms associated with the illness. Medications are used to manage pain and other symptoms effectively to keep patients comfortable. This kind of treatment can be delivered along with curative therapies (like chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery) to help patients cope with their illness and the side effects of treatment. The Balsam team identifies sources of discomfort (such as fatigue, nausea, pain, constipation) and treats them to ensure that the patient is as comfortable as possible. This is done in coordination with treating physicians to ensure that patients are comfortable and their treatment goals are met.

When should I contact a palliative care provider?

Accessing palliative care as early as possible can make things easier for you, your carers, and family. It is best to make contact with a palliative care team early on to understand what services they provide. Even if you decide that you do not need palliative care services initially, you can become familiar with what is available if your needs change down the road.

If I decide to start palliative care, does that mean I’m “giving up”?

No. Palliative care aims at making you and your loved ones comfortable and helps you achieve the best possible quality of life. It’s not about “giving up” and it’s not about dying. It’s about living life to the fullest regardless of your disease and regardless of how sick you may be.

If I start receiving palliative care, do I have to stop seeing my doctor?

No. Your primary treating physician can remain involved in your care if this is what you and your physician want. Balsam’s team of healthcare professionals will coordinate your plan of care with your physician and any other medical specialists who have been involved in your care in the past. In fact, coordination of your medical care is one way we help you manage your medical care.

Do I have to pay for the services?

No. All the services provided by Balsam are free of charge. This includes home visits by healthcare professionals (doctors and nurses) and use of medical equipment. However, there are some instances when you or your family may need to contribute to the cost of care:

  • If you need to use specialized equipment at home unavailable through Balsam, you may need to rent or buy them.
  • You will need to buy your regular medications.
  • If you require nursing care around the clock, you will need to cover the cost of your bedside nursing staff.

Balsam provides care free of charge because we are committed to insuring that palliative care is accessible to anyone who needs it regardless of ability to pay. However, we depend on donations to continue to provide this kind of care. We therefore appreciate the support of patients and families who are able to contribute to our sustainability.

How can I receive palliative care?

Your physician can refer you to Balsam by contacting a member of our staff. You can also request care directly by contacting our staff or having a friend or relative contact us. The Balsam team will then meet with you and/or your family to decide together how we can best support you.

Where do I receive palliative care provided by Balsam?

Balsam currently provides care to patients in their homes. If a patient is admitted to a hospital, Balsam team members continue to support the patient and family during the hospitalization.

Does Balsam provide medical equipment?

Some people may need medical equipment to allow them to avoid frequent visits to the hospital. For example, people who have difficulty getting out of bed may benefit from a hospital bed that allows them to change positions and allows their caregivers to assist them with moving and bathing. We provide medical equipment to our patients when help them remain in their homes despite the limitations of their disease. Basic equipment such as hospital beds, oxygen generators, nebulizer machines, wheelchairs, walkers and air mattresses are readily available and will be delivered to your home. In situations when equipment is not available at Balsam, we will support you and your family by directing you to a reliable vendor. We do not provide medical equipment to people who are not under our care.