I like Wikipedia's definition of answering the question: What is palliative care? “Palliative care is a multidisciplinary approach to specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses.” It actually had its roots in the hospice movement back in the 1960's. But today it has grown into a physician specialty area with miles of road ahead of it.
The Human Connection of Palliative Care
What Makes Palliative Care Different Than Hospice?
Palliative care is different than hospice care in that palliative care is generally initiated in the facility where treatment is being prescribed, and hospice care is generally initiated in the home. WebMD sees the difference between Palliative Care and Hospice in the following way(s):
Palliative care is actually a new medical specialty that has recently emerged — and no, it's not the same as hospice. It doesn't serve only the dying. Instead, it focuses more broadly on improving life and providing comfort to people of all ages with serious, chronic, and life-threatening illnesses. – WebMD
The chronic diseases that more commonly require palliative care include the biggies like; heart failure, COPD, kidney disease and the advanced stages of Alzheimer's disease. Both young and old can be candidates for palliative care as pediatric palliative care is a sub-specialty unto its own.
The Growth of Palliative Care
Debra Bradley Ruder of Harvard Magazine writes that the field of palliative care is growing for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, “Palliative care is associated with higher quality of life and lower costs through fewer and shorter hospital stays, less intensive treatments, and more hospice use, so it’s an attractive option in the context of healthcare reform.” Ms. Ruder also notes a national shortage of hospice and palliative-medicine physicians. She says one such study estimates a gap of at least 6,000 physicians, and increasing demands as baby boomers age.
Palliative Care Resources
There's a lot of information out there about both Hospice Care and Palliative Care. If you're interested, one of the organizations to become familiar with is the The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO). It's the largest nonprofit membership organization representing hospice and palliative care programs and professionals (in the United States). The website PlanBeyond seems to have some nice resources around Palliative Care, and of course we love WebMD as well.