Supportive Palliative Care

Supportive palliative care (SPC) is a recognized medical specialty focusing on comfort, care and planning for patients and families facing serious illness. Seriously ill patients may need help with pain relief or other upsetting physical symptoms, such as anxiety, shortness of breath, and nausea. The patient and family may need help emotionally adjusting to illness, exploring goals of care and planning for the future.

SPC is patient and family-centered health care that optimizes quality of life for patients and families facing serious illness. The patient may or may not be terminally ill.

Services include:

  • Anticipating, preventing and treating a patient’s “total pain” – physical, emotional, social or spiritual.
  • Supporting patients and families in making informed decisions.
  • to support the informed consent decision making process. 

The patient may continue treatment intended to cure or modify the serious illness. Some persons confuse SPC with hospice. Both focus on the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual challenges of serious illness, but hospice only becomes involved once attempts at cure or remission of the serious illness are no longer being made. Children experiencing serious illness can also receive specialized services through pediatric supportive palliative care.

Neither service is associated with a shorter life-span or hastening death. SPC has been associated with improved survival compared to customary care in patients with metastatic cancer. The benefits of SPC in metastatic cancer are so high that the American Society of Clinical Oncology recommends early SPC services be provided within 8 weeks of a diagnosis of metastatic cancer. Many suspect a similar benefit will be shown in other serious diseases.

For Clients or Patients

How Can I Get Supportive Palliative Care?  
SPC might be right for you if you have a serious illness and experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Uncontrolled pain, shortness of breath, nausea, or other serious physical symptoms.
  • Depression, anxiety or fear.
  • Family distress.
  • Spiritual needs.

If you think this type of care might benefit you or someone in your family, talk with your health care provider about getting an SPC consultation. To find a SPC provider in your area, visit the palliative care provider directory webpage.

Who Is Part of My Palliative Care Team?

It takes a team approach to ensure you get the best care possible. The national consensus standard of membership for an SPC team includes a: 

  • Physician,
  • Social worker,
  • Chaplain, and;
  • Advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), physician assistant (PA), or registered nurse (RN). 

Many other professionals may also be involved such as:

  • Physical and occupational therapists,
  • Pharmacists,
  • Mental health professionals,
  • Music specialists, and;
  • Child life specialists.

The SPC team always works in partnership with your primary treating physicians and family to help you pursue the best care possible for your condition.

What Does a Supportive Palliative Care Team Do?

Your SPC team will:

Prescribe treatments to control pain, nausea, shortness of breath, fatigue, and other symptoms of serious illness.

  • Help manage depression, anxiety, or grief.
  • Assist with planning for the future and facing difficult treatment decisions.
  • Coordinate care with other doctors and healthcare clinicians.
  • Provide emotional and spiritual support to the patient and family.

How Do I Pay For SPC?

SPC is typically paid for by your health insurance or managed care organization, or by state or federal programs such as Medicare or Medicaid. Services also might be available for veterans from the Department of Veterans Affairs.