What is Palliative Care?

Palliative care refers to care for patients and their families who are facing a serious, life-limiting illness. Palliative care aims to relieve suffering and improve quality of life for patients and their families at all stages of the illness. Palliative care focuses on treating the impact that an illness has on patients, and is often provided in addition to other care that focuses on treating the illness itself.

What types of services are provided?

The types of palliative care services that may be provided include:

  • Physician and nursing services to assess and manage the progression of the illness. This includes providing pain and symptom management to improve comfort and quality of life
  • Personal support services (e.g., homemaking)
  • Psychological, spiritual and bereavement support
  • Other services, such as physiotherapy, caregiver support, pharmacy, social work.

How can I access palliative care?

Palliative care can be provided or accessed through the following channels:

  1. Your primary health care provider (e.g. family doctor). Many types of palliative care are provided directly by primary health care providers who are already treating individuals for disease. For individuals requiring more specialized services, primary health care providers can provide appropriate referrals.
  2. Your local Home and Community Care Support Services organization can refer you to hospice or other support services
  3. Your local hospital
  4. Your long-term care home

Where is palliative care provided?

Palliative care is delivered in all care settings, including the following:
  • Individual homes
  • Hospices
  • Long-Term Care Homes
  • Hospitals

What does it cost to receive palliative care?

There is no cost to patients for medically necessary palliative care services in their homes, hospices, or hospitals. For example, this includes any treatments that a physician may provide. While residents of long-term care homes may pay a co-payment, these funds represent the individual's contribution to food and accommodations – not palliative care services.

What supports exist for caregivers?

There are a variety of supports available to caregivers in Ontario. These may include respite care or hospice-based bereavement. The 2015 Patients First: A Roadmap to Strengthen Home and Community Care [PDF] commits to investing more in training and education programs and developing a one-stop online source for information and resources available to caregivers to enable them to work with providers to ensure appropriate services are delivered.

Contact a Home and Community Care Support Services organization for more information, or use thehealthline.ca, which can help individuals locate caregiver supports in their area.

What is Advance Care Planning?

Advance Care Planning is a process that encourages patients, family members and health care providers to talk about patients' health care wishes, in case there comes a time when the patient may not be able to make his or her own health care decisions. While Advanced Care Planning conversations can be difficult, they help support patient-centred palliative care and help friends and family by taking away some of the stress and uncertainty that comes at an already emotional time.

How are palliative care and medical assistance in dying related?

As of June 6, 2016, medical assistance in dying will be permitted in Canada. This will not change how Ontario patients with life-limiting illness access other medical treatments, including palliative care.

Based on the experience of other countries, only a small number of Ontarians will choose to access medical assistance in dying. Patients with life-limiting illnesses will generally choose to access palliative care and other treatments.

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