Ask A Doc – Dr. Stuart VanderHeide, Medical Director of Hospice and Palliative Care of North Ottawa Community

What is Palliative Care?
Palliative Care provides care and assistance for people suffering from serious life limiting chronic illnesses. It focuses on providing relief from symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, anxiety, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping.

What is Hospice Care?
Hospice cares for people facing a life-limiting and terminal illness. Hospice provides expert medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support for patients as well as their families and loved ones. Hospice entails a team comprised of nurses, social workers and home health aides to assist in caring for you and your loved one in the comfort of your own home or in a facility. We also have volunteers that can meet other expectations like sitting with your loved one, reading, running errands as needed and even massage and/or music therapy.

What is the difference between Hospice and Palliative care?
Hospice services can only be used if you qualify for the service. This usually involves a life expectancy or six months or less. In contrast, Palliative Care is for anyone with a serious chronic illness that needs help to manage symptoms associated with the disease. You may also continue aggressive medical care with curative focused treatment at the same time while utilizing Palliative Care services.

Does insurance cover Hospice and Palliative Care?
Yes! Hospice is a Medicare and insurance covered service. Palliative Care is also covered by most insurances, although a copay may be charged similar to visits to your doctor or other medical specialties.

How can I get Palliative Care? And how does it work?
Ask for it. For Palliative Care, a referral from your primary care physician is needed. A Palliative Care nurse will often start an evaluation and coordinate a visit with the Palliative Care physician if needed. The team will communicate with your primary care doctor any recommendations for treatment and can provide follow up phone calls and/or visits to help assess treatment response for any on-going care needs.

When should I call?
Most people tend to wait too long to have the most benefit from these resources. A common statement often heard from patients is that “I wish I would have called months ago…” Do not wait. Talk to your doctor today!

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