Today's Medicine

Palliative Care Aims To Improve Quality Life of Those With Life-Limiting Illness

Published: Nov. 17, 2021

When people encounter a health crisis, they often have a million questions. How bad is it? How long will I live? How will this impact my everyday life? What about my relationships with friends and family?

A doctor can tell a patient that their cancer or other life-limiting illness will allow them to live for years or even decades, but they may still face fear or anxiety about how the end of their life will look.

How can people calm their anxiety about the future? One answer is by seeking palliative care.

Defining Palliative Care

When families first meet with me, I often joke that there are three types of people. Most people have never heard of palliative care, others have heard the word “palliative” but have no idea what I do, and some people have Googled it – and now they’re super confused.

In simple terms, palliative care is medical care that aims to relieve suffering and improve quality of life for people with life-limiting illnesses. Unlike hospice care, which only occurs during the final weeks of an individual’s life, palliative care can start at any point after the diagnosis of a serious disease.

Our teams help people in two important ways:

  1. We are experts at symptom management. Doctors can ask for our help in managing symptoms to give their patients the best quality of life and the level of comfort they’re looking for.
  2. We can answer the “Where are we at?” or “What does the future look like?” questions. Because a variety of decisions will need to be made, we can sit down with families to answer any questions they may have.

People assume that palliative care is the same as hospice in that it’s just for end-of-life care, but palliative care is all about improving quality of life and comfort, and helping people live the best life they can for as long as they can. It’s not about giving up or stopping anything; it’s about providing the best quality of life we can offer.

The Palliative Care Team

A palliative care team is modeled off the hospice philosophy of trying to meet a whole person – body, mind and spirit. The team consists of nurse practitioners, doctors, social workers and chaplains, collaborating to identify and meet the physical, emotional, social or spiritual needs of patients and families.

Palliative care usually starts in the hospital for people who have received a major diagnosis, but that’s not always the case. Some people are proactive and seek palliative care before a crisis puts them in the hospital, and others desire help after being discharged from the hospital.

While a palliative care team is available when people are in the hospital, Methodist also meets patients on an outpatient basis. We offer palliative care in both inpatient and outpatient settings at:

  • Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center
  • Methodist Fremont Health
  • Methodist Hospital
  • Methodist Women’s Hospital
  • Methodist Jennie Edmundson Hospital
Why Would I Choose Palliative Care?

​Palliative care might be right for you if you suffer from a serious condition, including:

  • Alzheimer’s disease or dementia
  • Cancer
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Heart disease or heart failure
  • Renal failure

A palliative care consultation can be requested by any provider and is covered by most insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid.

Data shows that people who pair palliative care with their cancer care or other treatment live longer than those who don’t.

Smoother Transition

For people not already receiving palliative care, moving into hospice care can be an abrupt change. They’re seeing their doctor, going through treatments, and suddenly there’s a crisis and doctors begin discussing hospice. For many families, the sudden change can feel like giving up.

With palliative care, our goal is to meet people sooner, help them improve their quality of life and make transitions from health to illness and end-of-life care as smooth as possible. The hope is to help families through that process so it’s not such an abrupt, frightening thing in the last days or weeks of their lives.

More Resources

About the Author

Dr. Todd Sauer is the medical director of palliative care and hospice at Methodist Hospital.

He believes communication and education are key to helping patients and families make important decisions about their own medical care.

See more articles from Todd Sauer, MD
Photo of Todd Sauer, MD