Critical Questions: When is it time to consider palliative or hospice care?

Critical Questions: When is it time to consider palliative or hospice care?

By Karen Schwartz

Dr. Gordon Wood, assistant medical director at Midwest Palliative & Hospice CareCenter and director of palliative medicine and supportive care at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, suggests that if you answer yes to any of the following, hospice or palliative care may be beneficial to you. Review the following questions and talk with your medical professional about how to address these medical conditions and enhance your quality of life. More information can also be found at

Do you or a loved one have one or more of the following serious illnesses?
Cancer Congestive heart failure (CHF)
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, lung disease
Kidney failure
Liver failure
Neurological diseases (e.g., ALS, Parkinson’s)

Do you or a loved one have symptoms that make it difficult to be as active as you would like to be, or impact your quality of life? These symptoms might include:
Pain or discomfort
Shortness of breath
Lack of appetite

Are you or a loved one experiencing any of the following?
Difficult side effects from treatment
Eating problems due to a serious illness
Frequent emergency room visits
Three or more admissions to the hospital within 12 months with the same symptoms

Do you or a loved one need help with any of the following?
Knowing what to expect
Knowing what programs and resources are available
Making medical decisions about treatment choices/options
Matching your goals and values to your medical care
Understanding the pros and cons (benefits/burdens) of treatments (e.g., dialysis, additional cancer treatments, surgery, etc.)

Do you or a loved one need help with any of the following?
Coping with the stress of a serious illness
Emotional support
Spiritual or religious support
Talking with your family about your illness and what is important to you

Is your family concerned or overwhelmed because they are not certain how to care for you or find the support they need?

Once palliative or hospice care has been determined as the appropriate care, Natalie Benda from Passages Hospice and Palliative Care suggests asking the provider the following:

• Does the agency have a 24-hour phone number you can call if you have questions, and how do they respond to your phone call?

• What are the treatment limits to come into the program; for example, IVs, feeding tubes and a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate order)?

• What is expected from the family caregiver, and how does hospice/palliative care supplement the family’s responsibilities?

• How often does hospice or palliative staff make visits? (This will change as the patient’s condition changes.)

• How many years has the agency been serving your community, and can the agency give you references?

• What bereavement services are provided?

Originally published in the Summer/Fall 2013 print edition