Debunking 5 Common Myths About Palliative Care

The first principle of palliative medicine is to relieve the pain and other distressing symptoms that have otherwise become a burden to those living with serious or advanced illness. In addition to addressing pain or other symptoms systemically, palliative support helps coordinate complicated medical care—helping patients and families understand their treatment options while each patient formulates their personal goals.

In the rapidly changing landscape of health care, palliative care is actually a relatively new specialty—and because of that, it is often misunderstood by patients, families, and even some physicians.

We want to eliminate the misunderstandings, so that our patients and families can instead focus on getting the support, counseling and resources to help reduce the stress that often comes with a serious medical diagnosis.

Here are five common myths about palliative care that we would like patients and families to get the facts on:

Myth #1: Palliative care is the same as hospice care.
Hospice care and palliative care are very similar in the whole body approach, as well as dealing with what is most important for people with an advanced or serious illness. Although all of hospice care is palliative, palliative care often begins much further upstream. Generally speaking with hospice care, a patient must be considered to have a terminal illness with a life expectancy of six months or less to be eligible; while palliative care can be received by patients at any time, at any stage of illness.  Hospice care can always remain an option, if and when it becomes appropriate for those who have received palliative care.

Myth #2: Once a patient accepts palliative care, he or she must stop all other treatments.
For the vast majority of patients living with advanced illness, both life-prolonging and palliative treatments are necessary and appropriate, and fortunately, almost all health insurance plans now recognize that fact. Many people who are by no means near death can benefit greatly from the additional pain and symptom management, as well as the support palliative care offers, and therefore, are not required to choose one over the other.

Myth #3: Palliative care shortens one’s life expectancy.
No. In fact, studies indicate that by providing palliative care alongside standard care not only improves many patients’ quality of life, but also extends their lives.

Myth #4:  Why consider palliative care when my doctor will address my pain issues.
Palliative care is a team approach to care—a partnership of patient, specialists and family. The core team includes a patient’s doctor, nurse and social work palliative care specialists.  Others, such as physical and occupational therapists, wound care specialists, nutritionists, and pharmacists may also be part of the team.  The goal is all about being in a partnership with the patient, their family and their other care providers. Palliative care is designed to not only address a patient’s symptoms, but also to help them better understand their treatment options and better define their individual goals.

Myth #5:  Electing palliative care basically means one has given up.
In fact, quite the opposite is true.  Choosing palliative care is all about improving one’s quality of life, with the goal of living to the fullest at every stage of an illness. 

South Shore Health's Palliative Care Program is offered in collaboration with Hospice of the South Shore and South Shore VNA. If you have specific questions abut the program, call 781-624-7001 or use this form to request a call from a home care specialist. 


Learn more about Palliative Care at South Shore Health.