Kim Elliott, RN, Expert on Healthy Aging

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06 July 2018

Last week the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health advanced several healthcare bills, including the bipartisan Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA). The bill, if made into law, would require the government to establish training programs for healthcare professionals on hospice and palliative care, enhance national research in delivery of care, and create educational programs for families and medical professionals on the benefits of each. This is an encouraging step for end of life care, especially as the aging population increases.

The education aspect of the bill is most important to me because both palliative and hospice care are vital services for the aging population. Both offer comfort and compassionate care for patients with life-limiting illnesses, but there are significant differences which are often misunderstood.

Palliative Care

According to the National Institute on Aging, palliative care is a multidisciplinary team that provides medical, social, emotional and practical support for people with terminal or non-terminal illnesses.  It is appropriate for any stage of a disease or serious illness, and can be provided alongside life-saving or curative treatments. Palliative care is provided in the home or in a healthcare setting. The primary focuses are helping patients understand treatment options, managing chronic conditions, preventing unnecessary hospitalizations and enhancing the overall quality of life.

For example, a cancer patient who is not healthy enough for surgery, but whose disease is not yet life-threatening, may receive services from a palliative care team. A palliative care team will help that patient and their family identify and reach goals, like pain management and understanding treatment options. If the patient’s goal is to get healthy enough for surgery, the palliative care team will help that patient achieve that goal, while working to improve their comfort-level and quality of life. They will coordinate a staff of doctors, nurses and social workers to add an extra layer of support in addition to the cancer treatment team.

Hospice Care

Hospice provides comfort and compassionate care for people in the final stages of life. Hospice care professionals provide 24/7 on-call support, clinical and skilled care, as well as spiritual and emotional counseling. In order to receive hospice services, a patient must be considered terminally ill and agree to no longer pursue curative measures. It is typically introduced within the last six months of life and is provided wherever a patient is most comfortable, whether it is in their home, hospital, nursing home or senior living community. Currently, Brookdale offers hospice services in 19 locations across the country.

For example, if a doctor determines a cancer patient will no longer qualify for life-saving treatment and only has a few months left to live, that patient qualifies for hospice care. A hospice team provides compassionate, around the clock comfort-care that ranges anywhere from music therapy, a volunteer sitting with a patient and holding their hand, or a medical staff administering and regulating pain medication. The hospice care team will assist the patient until they reach the end of life, and will offer counseling and bereavement services to their loved ones after.

It is exciting to see such an impactful healthcare bill make its way through Congress. This is a vital step toward ensuring anyone living with a life-limiting or life-threatening illness receives high-quality, comprehensive care.

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