Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses. This type of care is focused on providing patients with relief from the symptoms, pain, and stress of a serious illness – whatever the diagnosis. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. Palliative care is provided by a team of doctors, nurses, and other specialists who work with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. Palliative care is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and can be provided together with curative treatment.

  • Palliative care is appropriate for patients who need help with pain, symptoms, suffering or distress at any stage of illness.
  • Palliative care affirms life by supporting the patient and family’s goals and hopes; palliative care neither hastens nor postpones death.
  • Palliative care is an approach to treatment that emphasizes patients’ goals and seeks to provide for comfort and quality of life.
  • Palliative care can be provided throughout the course of the illness, even while the patient’s condition is being actively managed by other providers.
  • Palliative care ensures patient and family are fully and compassionately informed about prognosis and treatment options.
  • Palliative care promotes dignity throughout the course of illness, the dying process, and death.

What is the difference between Palliative Care, Supportive Care, and Hospice Care?

All programs provide help to the patient with pain and other symptoms and also provide support for the family. The Palliative Care team sees patients while they are hospitalized. At UNC, the Supportive Care team provides care to patients with cancer in the outpatient or clinic setting. Palliative Care and Supportive Care can be requested from the time a serious illness is diagnosed; while the patient’s condition is being actively managed by other providers; or when active treatment is no longer occurring. Hospice care is available to patients who are felt to be in the last few months of life and are not on active treatment of their condition but are focusing on treatment for comfort. Hospice services are available in the home, in nursing care facilities, or in hospice inpatient units.