The Palliative Care Conversation: How to Engage Your Doctor

palliative care conversation

Do you know what palliative care is? Chances are that your doctor doesn’t know either.

COPD. Advanced kidney disease. Congestive heart failure. Advanced diabetes with complications. Stage IV cancer with terminal pain issues. If you or a loved one has one of these or other serious, chronic disease, palliative care is an option you should know about.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is medical care focused on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stresses of advanced illness—whatever the diagnosis. Like hospice, the goal is to improve quality of life and relieve suffering for both the patient and the family. However, palliative care is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and can be provided together with curative treatment.

If that sounds like it might be useful to you, you might want to find out more, but chances are your physician isn’t fully familiar with palliative care. Physicians who specialize in palliative care are board certified, just like cardiologists or oncologists or internists are. But the certification and the specialty are relatively new, and your doctor may not have experience with it.

Palliative care is a consultative service, meaning that doctors work together to manage pain and symptoms of the disease. Home-based palliative care means the staff comes to your house or living facility to care for you. And the care is paid for through your insurance, just as other medical treatment is.

How do I find out more?

Since palliative care is a relatively new specialty, you should go directly to a provider to ask questions. Crossroads Palliative Care staff are more than happy to answer your questions. Since each and every patient is different, you’ll probably want to speak with someone on the phone (888-603-6673), but Crossroads also has a live online chat feature, available 24/7/365, too at

How do I talk to my doctor about palliative care?

Sometimes it can be tough to ask your doctor, whom you trust and appreciate, about another type of treatment. Here’s a suggestion about starting the conversation:

“Dr. Smith, you’ve been great through this illness and of course my mom still wants you as her doctor, but I’ve heard there is a specialty of medicine that can help manage Mom’s symptoms in her own home called palliative care. That’s attractive to us. Is it something we could consider?”

Rules that went into effect in 2016 will reimburse your doctor for an appointment specifically focused on end-of-life decisions—palliative care or hospice care—so the discussion isn’t an imposition, it’s just part of your medical care needs.

Another option is to call a palliative care provider, such as Crossroads Palliative Care, and ask them to speak clinician-to-clinician with your doctor.

It’s a conversation that is happening throughout the country

Healthcare reform has brought the nation’s attention to the cost of healthcare, including the unfortunate frequency of hospitalization for individuals with chronic, serious diseases. There’s general agreement that patients prefer to stay out of the hospital, and there’s clinical research to support this. Finding the best way to manage a chronic condition just might include palliative care. And palliative care may be the ticket to help keep your loved one at home and comfortable, while still in the driver’s seat for their care.


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Copyright © 2016 Crossroads Hospice. All rights reserved.


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